Why? In 1950, at 25 years of age, he hit .322, hit 28 home runs, scored 116, drove in 124, walked 55 times and struck out an astoundingly low 12 times! He won one of his three MVPs that year. Tom Morgan said that Yogi just “knew how to set up pitchers and hitters.” Yogi had a book on hitters and pitchers all right, but it wasn’t on a statistical sheet trotted out by Ivy League geniuses, it was in his noggin. Yogi knew hitters and pitchers better than possibly anybody who ever played the game, which was why he learned, after several poor hitting World Series, to become the best clutch hitter of his era and one of the greatest of all time.
About his ability to hit in huge clutch situations, Yogi said, without false modesty or bravado so prevalent these days in the big leagues, “I always thought the pressure was on the pitchers. They had to get me out.”
Dad said about Yogi, “Nice guy. Talked a lot. Greeted you when you came up to hit. Asked about the family. Later, he might say, “Jeez, so-and-so, you got a good swing, I don’t know how we’re gonna get you out.” Then Dad grinned, “Like Hell, he knew exactly how to get you out. He liked to distract you, get you thinking up there. Yogi was a master psychologist.”
Yogi didn’t look like a baseball player, didn’t even slightly resemble the sleek, powerfully built weight-lifting players of today who fill out their uniforms like Greek Gods. Yogi was a little over 5 feet 7 inches tall, but 185 pounds, and Dad said, “He was strong as a horse. Strong all the way through, top to bottom, but had exceptionally strong legs and ran better than you think, a good athlete. What made him a great hitter was his low center of gravity. It made it easier for him to get into his swing, and his swing was quick and compact and he drove the ball with those big legs and he didn’t swing hard, he met the ball.”
Unlike today’s big hitters, Yogi didn’t unravel and nearly come out of his uniform and come down with pulled oblique muscles. Yogi was known as the best “bad ball” hitter in the game, which meant he probably played a lot of pepper and was supreme at that, because, like a good pepper player, who can control any pitch anywhere, Yogi could take a pitch off his toes and lace it into the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, or tomahawk a high outside pitch at the shoulders into the gap in left center.
Yogi, in today’s game, would probably spend a while in the box against a big time flame thrower, sawing off pitches, ruining good pitches, wearing down that pitcher, then nailing him, and therefore softening him up for the rest of the line-up.
Later on, as a manager, Yogi, a combat veteran at 19 during the Normandy invasion, was known as “too nice a guy.” He was probably too easy on players, and though his nature was to be nice to anybody, this once poor kid from “The Hill” in the Italian section of St. Louis, also knew how tough and heart-breaking the game could be on ball players. He won a lot, but Yogi saw the long line of guys who loved the game and failed, who succeeded in the game but lost big games and didn’t come through, understood the general frustration of a game that in the end always defeated you more than you defeated it. Yogi probably had too big a heart to be too tough on players.
Dad said something like this, “The game’s like the most beautiful woman in the world and you never stopped loving her, but she never loves you back.”
In the end, the game loved Yogi.