Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hank Workman recalls the overlooked talents of Yogi Berra

Hank Workman was just a wide-eyed rookie with the New York Yankees when he was called up in September 1950. The University of Southern California star only played two games for the eventual World Series Champions, spending most of his time watching Yankees legends Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, and Phil Rizzuto lead the Yankees to the pennant. Despite being surrounded by those established veterans, the player he was most impressed with was their upstart catcher, Yogi Berra.

The famous catcher was a sportswriter’s dream. His quick and witty takes on life and baseball lightened up the often serious accounts of a long season. For almost seventy years, his famous quotations have endured and transcended the sport. Sadly, there will no more new “Yogi-isms” to add to the lexicon. Berra passed away Tuesday evening in New Jersey at the age of 90.

Standing 5’8” and weighing 190 lbs. in his playing days, Berra didn’t fit the typical physical profile of a major leaguer. Come to think about it, most of what Berra did on the field was atypical. A notorious “bad ball,” hitter, Berra broke all convention when it came to managing the strike zone. If a pitch was anywhere within reach, it was in Berra’s wheelhouse.

Save for nine at-bats with the New York Mets in 1965, Berra spent his 19-year Hall of Fame playing career with the New York Yankees starting in 1946. One of baseball’s most celebrated champions, Berra helped to lead the Yankees to 10 World Series victories in 14 appearances.

Playing alongside the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Berra’s skill and accomplishments were often overshadowed by their iconic status. Yet for those that played with Berra, there was a keen sense of his heightened acumen on the field that truly elevated his abilities.

Hank Workman
Hank Workman was a teammate of Berra’s on the 1950 Yankees. Despite only playing with him for one month that season, Workman gained a tremendous appreciation for the breadth of Berra’s skill set. Speaking with Workman in 2008, he was quick to acknowledge the nuances of Berra’s talents that put him in the upper echelon of baseball royalty.

“That guy was a great ballplayer,” Workman said. “He was built like a middleweight prize fighter. He was very athletic and he had great baseball sense. He always knew what to do and the right base to throw to. He could play third base and outfield; he didn’t that often, but he could. He was one of the best late-inning hitters. Nobody says anything about that. He didn’t have a super high average, but he never struck out much; he swung at everything. He was a guy you wanted up there in the clutch in the late innings. He was a fabulous ballplayer, the best catcher I think.”


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