Yesterday, I shared a brief history of a unique Yankees tradition: Monument Park. There, the greatest players, managers, owners, and broadcasters of the greatest baseball franchise are immortalized, allowing future generations to connect with the legends about whom they’ve only heard tales. It’s a fascinating story dating back almost 100 years, with moments ranging from light-hearted to solemn, comedic to tragic.
Today, I’d like to focus on a specific feature of Monument Park: the monuments themselves. Dating back to the first in 1932, the Yankees have only erected seven red granite monuments, honoring Miller Huggins, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, the victims and rescuers of the the September 11 attacks, and George Steinbrenner. DiMaggio was the last player to be commemorated in 1999, and Steinbrenner’s the most recent monument built in 2010.
With more than 11 years passing since the creation of a new monument, I wondered who, if anyone, would be the next recipient of the prestigious tribute. The immediate answer that came to mind was Yogi Berra, and the more I mulled on the topic, the more I began to question why the legendary catcher hadn’t already been honored as such.
Before we discuss Berra’s case, we first have to outline the distinction between a monument and the other forms of distinction in Monument Park. There are 37 plaques honoring former Yankees players, managers, owners, and broadcaster and a further five plaques honoring Jackie Robinson, three Popes, and the Stonewall Inn Uprising. Of the 37 former Yankees remembered in Monument Park, the team has retired 22 numbers, recognized both at Yankee Stadium and in Cooperstown.
On the site in the past, we’ve debated the Yankees deserving of having their number retired or people who have been overlooked for inclusion in Monument Park. But consideration for a monument is another matter altogether. As I mentioned before, there are only seven total monuments, with only four players receiving the honor. It is arguably the greatest honor the Yankees organization can bestow, and one that has only been awarded posthumously.
When you think of the Yankees, you think of the players who have become synonymous with the franchise. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle are undoubtedly among this group, but I’d also argue that Berra is right there alongside them. He has won more World Series titles than any player in the history of baseball, making him the exemplar of a franchise that so prides itself on winning more championships than anyone else.
Berra played 18 seasons with the Yankees, making 18 All-Star Game appearances, winning three AL MVP awards, and ten rings with the team as a player. He slashed .285/.348/.482 — good for a 124 wRC+ — and his 1,430 RBI rank first, 358 home runs fourth, and 63.7 fWAR fifth all-time among catchers. His three World Series wins as coach of the Mets and later Yankees give him an unprecedented 13 total.
But at the end of the day, it’s not the numbers or achievements that should earn Berra a monument. You see, many Yankees have compiled Hall of Fame careers built on stats and even World Series titles. But being immortalized on a monument goes beyond what the player has accomplished on the field.
The quartet of legends whose monuments sit beyond the centerfield wall transcended the sport of baseball and even sport itself. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle were cultural icons, achieving celebrity that few others have. Household names, they became pieces of Americana, woven into the fabric of the nation’s collective memory.
All of the same could be said about Yogi Berra. He achieved the status of an American institution, his many Yogi-isms becoming part of the everyday American vernacular. One of the most famous American cartoons was probably named after him. Since his passing in 2015, many have wondered why a monument wasn’t erected in his memory, and every day that passes is a day extra that the Yankees are overdue in doing so.
So there’s my argument for Berra to be the next Yankee honored with a monument in Monument Park. While preparing to write, my mind wandered over other former Yankees who might be candidates for the distinction. I reckon Derek Jeter is the most likely, although hopefully not for a long time. In the meanwhile, the Yankees can make right a wrong and make seven monuments eight in honor of Yogi Berra.