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Silverman: Lovable And Brilliant Off The Field, Yogi Berra Was A Genius On It

By Steve Silverman
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It has been 50 years since Yogi Berra played his last major league game, and it was an inglorious 0-for-4 performance with the New York Mets against the old Milwaukee Braves.

But there's little doubt that the one and only Yogi, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 90, was perhaps the greatest catcher in the history of baseball.

If we look at all the measurables, Berra probably ranks second to Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds, but only because Bench was so superior when it came to his rocket for an arm. In nearly every other area, the two were absolute equals on the field.

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And while Bench may have been the catcher for the wondrous Cincinnati Reds, and been a huge part of the two World Series championship they won in the 1970s, Yogi was just as big a part of a New York Yankees team that may have been the greatest team of all-time and won 10 World Series titles.

Yogi had such a colorful and outsized personality that he is widely known by the majority for his Yogi-isms. His brilliant malapropos that never came out the way the great wordsmiths would have put them, but they simply made so much sense they became a part of American culture.

As beloved as Yogi the personality and icon was, Yogi the player was one of the game's giants at the sport's most demanding position.

He was a favorite of Casey Stengel, and that was no mean feat. History may look at Stengel as the lovable "Old Perfessor" filled with his own history of iconic sayings and twisted grammar, but the truth was that he was demanding, cantankerous and mean much of the time.

He found fault with just about every player he ever had, but Berra was one of the few he loved and admired unequivocally.

How could he not?

In 1951, on a team that had both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Berra was the American League MVP and the glue to a championship team. Yogi batted .294 with 27 homers and 88 RBIs, and that season came one year after he had hit .322 with 28 homers and a magnificent 124 RBIs.

Seems like the voters should have taken care of him in 1950, but they chose to give it to the beloved Scooter, Phil Rizzuto.

Yogi also won the MVP in in 1954 and '55, and his offensive production throughout the 1950s was remarkable, as he averaged 99.7 RBIs throughout the decade.

The roll call of the game's great catchers is superb, and the top 5 here includes Carlton Fisk at No. 5, Bill Dickey at No. 4, Roy Campanella at No. 3, Yogi at No. 2, with Bench holding the top spot.

The rocket arm gives Bench his position at the top, and nobody has ever come close to the velocity that Bench could put on the ball. In the years that followed, Pudge Rodriguez and Yadier Molina have also had great arms, but Bench wins.

Yogi's arm was top of the line in his day, and he also called perhaps the greatest game of any catcher. Don Larsen's 1956 perfect game in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers is his signature moment – Larsen never shook him off in that game – but he was always thinking one step ahead of his opponents when he called a game.

That was Yogi's way, and his all-around defense was amazing. There may never have been a catcher who was as quick behind the plate when it came to fielding bunts or preventing wild pitches from getting through to the backstop.

As the all-time greats have left us, it's often easy to remember them for their on-field achievements and not their personalities and outside interests.

For Yogi, it may be the opposite. He was beloved, clever and iconic in his time after he left the game. But when he played it, he was one of the best at the toughest position.

Never forget that he was the MVP on perhaps the greatest team that ever played.

That's a pretty good legacy.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy

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