Remembering 'Grampa' Yogi's Mets career
A Yankees icon, Berra also managed Amazin's to 1973 National League pennant
NEW YORK -- Saunter on by the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center's booth at the 2013 T-Mobile All-Star FanFest at the Jacob Javitz Center, and you'll learn about the place built in honor of Lorenzo Pietro Berra.
The Museum is on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, N.J. There, you can see the 10 glittering World Series rings Berra won as a Yankees player, take a gander at one of the 35-inch, 35-ounce Louisville Slugger R43 bats the 5-foot-8 Berra routinely wielded, and read the love letters he wrote to wife, Carmen, as a rookie. The whole place is a testament to the life and career of the Greatest Living Yankee.
Which is why everyone always forgets he was also a Met.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Mets, who Berra managed to a National League pennant. It was during the '73 season that he spawned his now famous saying, "It ain't over 'til it's over."
In 1974, Berra managed the NL All-Star team to victory in Pittsburgh as a Met. That ring, along with the World Series ring Berra earned as the first-base coach of the 1969 "Miracle Mets," is on display at the Museum, too.
Now, I have to come clean. As the oldest of the 11 Berra grandchildren, I think the Greatest Living Yankee is also the Greatest Living Grampa, and I'm also the only family member on the board of the Museum. I grew up hearing stories about the Yankees' dynasty of the 1950s and '60s from the mouths of the participants themselves -- Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto.
Those years are legendary. But I also heard stories about the 10 years my Grampa spent coaching and managing the Mets, years my Gram refers to as "just plain fun."
My Gramp made lifelong friendships with fellow Mets coaches Eddie Yost, Rube Walker and Joe Pignatano. My grandma loved being the matriarch to a young group of baseball wives, and formed a fast friendship with Mets majority owner Joan Whitney Payson, who shared my grandmother's love for the arts.
My dad, Larry, the oldest Berra son, went on a few roadtrips in the late 1960s as a bullpen catcher before heading into the Cape Cod League. Spring Trainings were a blast at the Colonial Inn in St. Pete Beach, Fla., where Tug McGraw, originator of the "Ya Gotta Believe!" rallying cry, tried to pick up "a hot blonde" at the pool before realizing, to his chagrin and Grampa's ire, that it was my Gram.
In 1964, Grampa was the Yankees' manager. He led his team to the American League pennant, then lost to the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series. He was promptly fired, and joined the Mets for the 1965 season as a player/coach.
The player part was short-lived. On May 9, just three days before his 40th birthday, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Braves, Gramp struck out three times on Tony Cloninger fastballs. It was the first time in his career he'd struck out three times in one game. This, after all, is a man who struck out only 12 times in all of 1950. He drove back home to Jersey and told my Gram he'd quit immediately after the game.
"I didn't go out there to be embarrassed," he said.
So yes, the Greatest Living Yankee retired as a Met.
Gramp spent the rest of the 1965 season coaching under Casey Stengel, his longtime Yankees manager and mentor, who had been coaxed out of retirement to lead the Mets. He also coached under Wes Westrum, Salty Parker and Gil Hodges, and took over as the Mets' skipper in '72, when Hodges passed away.
Little did Gramp know what a remarkable year 1973 would be. Midway through the season, the Mets were in last place, but in the midst of a very tight race in the NL East. When asked by the media if the season was over, Gramp replied, "It ain't over 'til it's over." And it wasn't.
The Mets rallied, and they managed to win the division with a mere 82 victories and .509 winning percentage. Then, they beat the Big Red Machine in the NL Championship Series. Remember the Game 3 incident between Pete Rose and Buddy Harrelson, after Rose slid high and hard into Harrelson at second base?
That pennant was Gramp's second as a manager -- one in each league. The Mets would go on to lose the World Series to the defending champion Oakland A's in seven games.
Until I was a teenager, that World Series was only something I'd heard about. But in 1995, when ESPN Classic began showing footage of old games, I was in for a treat.
I went for dinner at my grandparents' house in Montclair, N.J., and found Grampa in the living room, watching Game 2 of the 1973 Word Series, which went 12 innings and was, at the time, the longest in Series history. In the bottom of the 10th, as Harrelson was tagging up from third base on a Felix Millan fly ball to left, my Grampa rose out of his chair.
Harrelson was called out by home-plate umpire Augie Donatelli in one of the more controversial calls in World Series history. I watched Grampa holler at the TV like his anger was as fresh as a daisy, while at the same time his side-burned, gold-framed Aviator-clad '70s self shouted in Donatelli's face on the screen.
"Where'd he touch him? Where'd he touch him?" both Grampas questioned in unison. Donatelli claimed A's catcher Ray Fosse had tagged Harrelson on the rear end, but neither of the Grampas agreed.
While he was still hooting at the TV, my Gram came in, rolling her eyes, to tell us dinner was ready.
"Yogi, that play isn't going to end any differently, no matter how many times you watch it or how much hollering you do," she said. "Now, come eat your rigatoni."
Grampa's decade-long tenure with the Mets came to an end with his firing on Aug. 5, 1975. He had a managerial record of 292 wins, 296 losses and a whole lot of fun.
And that is what kids have at his Museum, which offers sports education and character-building programs for kids of all ages, along with baseball and softball camps in the summer. Grampa grew up a poor Italian immigrant kid on The Hill in St. Louis. He went on to become a Hall of Famer. His Museum and Learning Center aims to teach children that they, too, can be whatever they want to be.
And that's amazin'.
Lindsay Berra is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.