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Yogi Berra turns 89: Celebrating the legend's life through timeline

You can observe a lot by watching.

Jim McIsaac

Today is Yankees legend Yogi Berra's 89th birthday.  Although I've only been around for about 24 years of Yogi's life, all of which took place after his retirement from the game, it's been tremendously fun seeing him around on Old Timers' Days, playoff opener first pitches, and other such events. Yogi is unique in that, as Joe Posnanski once wrote, he is probably one of the most quoted figures in American history--almost certainly the most quoted in the history of sports. His "Yogi-isms" were amusing, and oh by the way, he remains arguably the greatest catcher in the history of the American League. The three-time AL MVP's only legitimate competition for the title of "Greatest catcher to ever play the game" is Johnny Bench.

Yogi's life has truly been amazing, from growing up in St. Louis to winning a record 10 World Series titles as a player and beyond. The only Yankees Hall of Famer to ever live longer is Phil Rizzuto. Grand epics could be written about the many incredible things that Yogi was witness to over the years, but I thought that it would be fun to chronicle Yogi's life in a timeline of sorts, comparing the events in his long life to everything going on around him. Don't forget--it ain't over 'till it's over, and hopefully, we will be privileged to keep Yogi around for many years more. Few sports figures have ever been beloved the way baseball has cherished this diminutive catcher with the gift of gab.


Lawrence Peter Berra born on May 12th to Italian immigrants Pietro and Paolina Berra in St. Louis.

Scopes Monkey Trial: Tennessee teacher John Scopes arrested for teaching evolution.

F. Scott Fitzgerald publishes The Great Gatsby.

Founded in 1925: New York Giants football team, New Yorker magazine, Chrysler

AL & NL MVPs: Roger Peckinpaugh and Rogers Hornsby

Other notable births: Malcolm X, Johnny Carson, and Robert F. Kennedy

Still living when Yogi was born: Christy Mathewson, Harry Houdini, and William Howard Taft


At age 16 and already an eight-grade dropout, Berra (nicknamed "Yogi" by a friend who said he resembled a Hindu yogi) and his neighbor Joe Garagiola try out for the local St. Louis Cardinals. For $500 in 1942, the Cardinals sign Garagiola, who goes on to have a nine-year MLB career and a Ford C. Frick Award-winning career in broadcasting on NBC, but they only offer Berra half of what Garagiola received; insulted, Yogi declines and decides to sign with the Yankees for $90/month in 1943.

With World War II afoot, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, sparking the United States to end its neutrality and declare war on Japan, Germany, and Italy.

Famous comedian Bob Hope performs his first USO show.

AL & NL MVPs: Joe DiMaggio and Dolph Camilli

Notable births: Bobby Cox, Dick Cheney, and Bob Dylan

Notable deaths: Lou Gehrig, James Joyce, and Kaiser Wilhelm II


While serving in the Navy, Yogi participates in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in France, firing on the German defenses. The D-Day invasion was perhaps the biggest turning point of World War II, as the Axis powers began to greatly decline.

Holocaust concentration camp in Warsaw liberated, but others like Auschwitz continue to torture members of the Jewish population, such as 15-year-old Anne Frank, whose diary detailing the horrors is later published.

Austrian pediatrician Hans Asberger publishes paper on what would later be called "Asberger's syndrome."

AL & NL MVPs: Hal Newhouser and Marty Marion

Notable births: Joe Frazier, Rudy Giuliani, and Barry White

Notable deaths: Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Erwin Rommel, and a tragically high percentage of the approximately six million Jews killed during the Holocaust


After debuting in '46, Yogi plays his first full major league season, batting .280/.310/.464 with 11 homers in 83 games and finishing 15th in AL MVP voting. The Yankees win the AL pennant under manager Bucky Harris, Yogi belts the first pinch-hit homer in World Series history in Game 3, and the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven to games win their 11th championship. It would be Yogi's first of a record 10 World Series rings.

The United Nations creates the State of Israel, adding yet another controversy to the centuries-old feud between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Truman Doctrine released by the White House, announcing the United States' intention to stem the spread of Communism; House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) begins its ruthless investigation of Communists in show busines.

AL & NL MVPs: Joe DiMaggio and Bob Elliott

Notable births: David Bowie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and David Letterman

Notable deaths: Al Capone, Henry Ford, and Fiorello La Guardia


Yogi hits .294/.350/.492 with 27 homers, starting an amazing 140 games behind the plate, where he throws out 54% of baserunners. (Twice, Yogi started a ridiculous 148 of 154 possible games at catcher.) He wins his first of three AL MVPs and the Yankees win their third of a record five World Series titles in a row. (Yogi's luck began in '49, when Yogi married Carmen Short, his wife of 65 years until her passing in March 2014.) Manager Casey Stengel later remarked that the secret to his success was that "I never played an important game without my man." His man was, of course, Yogi.

The Korean War rages on, reaching a stalemate in July that would not end for two more years, claiming the lives of at least two million people.

Reclusive author J.D. Salinger publishes his seminal work, The Catcher in the Rye

AL & NL MVPs: Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella

Notable births: Dave Winfield, Joey Ramone, and Sally Ride

Notable deaths: William Randolph Hearst, Arnold Schoenberg, and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson


Yogi ties a career-high with 30 homers, hits .298/.378/.534 in 140 games, finishes runner-up to Triple Crown-winning teammate Mickey Mantle for his fourth AL MVP, and catches the only perfect game in playoff history, Don Larsen's Game 5 perfecto against the Dodgers.

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The Yankees win their 17th World Series, Yogi earns his seventh ring, and the Brooklyn Dodgers fall in their last Subway Series appearance before moving to Los Angeles in 1958.

Elvis Presley cracks the United States music charts for the first time with "Heartbreak Hotel."

Bob Barker hosts his first game show, Truth and Consequences

AL & NL MVPs: Mickey Mantle and Don Newcombe

Notable births: Larry Bird, David Copperfield, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Notable deaths: Connie Mack, A.A. Milne, and Jackson Pollock


Two years after winning his last World Series ring as a player, Yogi is offered the Yankees' managerial job with skipped Ralph Houk moving up to the front office. Yogi happily accepts but the Yankees' outlook is bleak after they are swept in Chicago on August 20th, falling to third place. People question Yogi's leadership until the infamous "Harmonica Incident" with infielder Phil Linz. The Yankees get on a hot streak and come from behind to win their fifth straight AL pennant with a 30-13 finish to the season following the Harmonica Incident, though they lose a tough seven-game World Series to the Cardinals. Yogi is harshly fired after the season; he would not return to the organization for 12 years.

New York City announces plans to build the World Trade Center, and the World's Fair is held at newly-constructed Shea Stadium in Queens, home of New York's newest baseball team, the perennial doormat Mets.

A year after his memorable "I Have a Dream" speech, civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

AL & NL MVPs: Brooks Robinson and Ken Boyer

Notable births: Barry Bonds, Nicolas Cage, and Keanu Reeves

Notable deaths: Herbert Hoover, Douglas MacArthur, and Jawaharlal Nehru


With career numbers of .285/.348/.482, 321 doubles, 358 homers, 18 All-Star appearances, and of course, three AL MVPs and 10 World Series rings, Yogi Berra is elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It takes him until his second ballot to get in because DERP BBWAA. (Yogi is managing the Mets at the time, a tenure that sees him coin the catchphrase "It ain't over 'till it's over" while the Mets come back to win the '73 NL pennant, Yogi's second as a manager.) The Yankees also retire Berra's number 8 in a joint ceremony on July 22nd honoring Berra and his Yankees Hall of Fame catcher predecessor and mentor, Bill Dickey, who wore the same number and "learned him everything." In typical Yogi fashion, he remarks at the Cooperstown ceremony "I'd like to thank everyone who made this day necessary."

White House operatives later learned to be associated with President Richard Nixon make multiple attempts to break into the Watergate office complex, home of the Democratic National Committee.

Video game company Atari founded by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, and their video game "Pong" becomes a nationwide phenomenon.

AL & NL MVPs: Dick Allen and Johnny Bench

Notable births: Shaquille O'Neal, Notorious B.I.G., and Ben Affleck

Notable deaths: Roberto Clemente, J. Edgar Hoover, and Harry Truman


Yogi ends a feud with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner stemming from his sudden firing as Yankees manager in April of '84, returning to Yankee Stadium for the first time in 15 years in a wonderful ceremony capped by pitcher David Cone's perfect game. It's an absolutely improbable and amazing homecoming for the Yankees legend.

Two teenagers at Columbine High School kill 12 students, a teacher, and themselves, in one of the most heart-wrenching school shootings in United States history.

The euro is adopted as the official currency of all countries in the European Union.

The country dreads the "Y2K bug" that will supposedly wreak havoc on computers and technology when all the clocks hit midnight on New Year's Eve to start 2000. Nothing happens because duh.

AL & NL MVPs: Ivan Rodriguez and Chipper Jones

Notable births: Some kids who will be relevant some day, I'm sure unless 1999 babies are a vortex of fail.

Notable deaths: Joe DiMaggio, Stanley Kubrick, and John F. Kennedy, Jr.


Here's hoping Yogi gets to see many more incredible events in his thrilling life. Happy birthday!