Happy 84th birthday, Yogi

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

On this, his 84th birthday, at least four decades of baseball fans know only the post-playing-career Yogi Berra.

The funny quotes. The managerial stints. The commercials with the talking duck.

Yet for the generation of fans from the 1940s and ’50s — the ones that saw Berra in his prime — Berra is much more.

Catchers with Berra’s combination of skill at the plate and behind it are few and far between in baseball history. He hit 20 or more home runs 11 times and drove in 100 or more runs five times. He threw out an incredible 47.8 percent of runners who tried to steal against him.

5-12-09-Muder_BerraPitch.jpgOnly seven players won as many Most Valuable Player Awards — three — as Berra did. Only Barry Bonds won more.

Factor in leadership — 14 World Series appearances and 10 championship rings in his 18-year career — and Berra rises to a level almost without peer.

As a cultural icon, however, Berra reaches an even greater audience. Those who have never been to a baseball game know his name. His wit and wisdom will live forever. Just say the word “Yogi,” and everybody — save for a few Hanna-Barbera cartoon fans — thinks of Lawrence Peter Berra.

Still, it all comes back to the game on the field. Thank heaven we have the numbers to prove it was real.

It’s a body of work that still seems to good to be true.

Happy birthday, Mr. Berra.

Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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