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Baseball legend Yogi Berra dies at 90

Major League Baseball and fans are remembering the life of the Hall of Fame Yankees catcher
Baseball legend Yogi Berra dead at 90 02:43

Yogi Berra, the baseball legend who crouched behind homeplate for the New York Yankees over the span of almost two decades, died Tuesday at the age of 90.

Berra won a still-unmatched 10 World Series rings (in 14 tries,) three MVP awards, 15-straight All Star selections, and the hearts of a baseball-mad nation with his hilarious, bizarre and often poignant malapropisms. He was beloved by adults and children alike, and even had a famous cartoon character named after him, Yogi Bear.

The Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey confirmed his death in a tweet.

"Yogi conducted his life with unwavering integrity, humility and a contagious good humor that elevated him from baseball legend to beloved national icon," the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center said in a statement. "For all his accolades and honors as a player, coach and mentor, he remained completely true to himself - a rare example of authentic character excellence and a lasting role model for his peers, his public, and the thousands of children who visit the YBMLC each year to take part in programs inspired by his values."

His family said in a statement released by the museum that, while they were mourning "our father, grandfather and great-grandfather, we know he is at peace with Mom. We celebrate his remarkable life, and are thankful he meant so much to so many. He will truly be missed."

In a sad but poignant note, the museum tweeted earlier Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the day in 1946 when Berra made his MLB debut for the Yankess, and hit his first homerun for the team.

Hal Steinbrenner, Yankees managing general partner, said that "Berra's legacy transcends baseball."

"Though slight in stature, he was a giant in the most significant of ways through his service to his country, compassion for others and genuine enthusiasm for the game he loved. He has always been a role model and hero that America could look up to," Steinbrenner said in a statement.

As CBS News correspondent Vinita Nair reports, Berra had a way with words like few of his contemporaries.

He coined the trademark phrase, "it ain't over till it's over" -- probably the most familiar of what have become known collectively as Yogi-isms... and they've been copied by millions, even presidents.

Many of his other malapropisms have made their way permanently into the American lexicon.

"60 Minutes" visited the the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Montclair, N.J., where the permanent exhibition houses some of his more famous Yogi-isms:

  • "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."
  • "You can observe a lot by watching."
  • "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be."
  • "If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."
  • "Ninety percent of the game is half mental."

To figure out all the great Yogi-isms, "60 Minutes" went to the world's foremost authority on quotes -- Justin Kaplan, editor of "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations."

Berra has eight entries in the latest edition, more than any living American president.

"I don't think people quote Shakespeare so much as they now quote Yogi Berra," Kaplan says. "Can you imagine a commencement speech without 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it'? It's impossible to conceive. And it leaves the young graduates in a state of total confusion and wonderment, which is the way it should be."

Actor-director Billy Crystal, who used Berra for technical assistance on the set of "61," his movie about the Mantle-Maris home-run race, calls the former Yankee catcher "a gentler, convoluted Archie Bunker in many ways - without the bigotry."

During the filming, Crystal took Berra out to dinner and has this anecdote to relate:"He said to the waiter, 'I want a vodka.' And I said, 'Do you want it straight up or on the rocks?' And he said, 'Straight up, but with a little ice.' Now, that's a Yogi. I went, 'You did it again.' 'What did I do?' 'Well, straight up is without ice.' 'Yeah, I just wanted a little bit.' 'So why didn't you just say - with just a little ice?' 'Well, I dunno - it just came out that way.'

"And that's - that's it," Crystal said. "The core of it is the truth. The core of it is a convoluted image that becomes very pristine when you look at it."

Unlike most star players, Berra became even more popular after his playing career, using his arsenal of Yogi-isms to help sell products and make money for his family as he settled into life in Montclair, N.J., where he had lived since the 1950s.

Berra was born in St. Louis on May 12, 1925, the son of Italian immigrants. His dad was a brickyard laborer. He dropped out of school at a young age and worked to help support his family, all while chasing his baseball dream. In 1943, his hometown Cardinals rejected him after a tryout, but a New York Yankees scout took notice and signed him to a farm team.

Berra joined the military shortly thereafter, and was in the D-Day invasion in 1944, serving on a gunboat. When he returned stateside, he took up again with the Yankees in 1946, and wouldn't retire as a player for the team until 1963.

Among his countless exploits as a catcher, his most famous is probably catching the only perfect game in World Series history. The video of Berra leaping into pitcher Don Larsen's arms in 1956 after the game is still regularly replayed during baseball games to this day.

Berra managed for a few decades after his playing days ended, coaching the Yankees, New York Mets, and Houston Astros. He had an infamous falling out with the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who fired him 16 games into the 1985 season. They made up 14 years later, and Berra was a fixture at Yankee Stadium until his health declined in recent years.

Berra is survived by three sons. His wife, Carmen, died in 2014. They were married for 65 years.

The Associated Press reports Berra published three books: his autobiography in 1961, "It Ain't Over ..." in 1989 and "The Yogi Book: I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said" in 1998. The last made The New York Times' best seller list.

In a statement on Wednesday, President Obama offered his condolences to the Berra family.

"Yogi Berra was an American original - a Hall of Famer and humble veteran; prolific jokester and jovial prophet," the statement read. "He epitomized what it meant to be a sportsman and a citizen, with a big heart, competitive spirit, and a selfless desire to open baseball to everyone, no matter their background."

Carmen famously once asked Berra where he wanted to be buried, in St. Louis, New York or Montclair.

"I don't know," he said. "Why don't you surprise me?"

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