It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

With the earlier Mantle post regarding a Yankee legend’s at-bats at Shea Stadium, it made sense to also check the final playing days of another Yankee immortal, Yogi Berra. Unlike the Mick, Yogi actually went on to don the Mets’ uniform and become an Amazins icon himself. But among his last few at-bats in baseball are some interesting stories indeed.

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Yogi Berra in 1965

Most die-hard fans are aware that Yogi’s official Yankee playing days ended with the 1963 World Series, as he was named the Yankees manager for 1964, after Ralph Houk was relieved of managerial duties and elevated to general manager, following the WS loss to the Dodgers. But although Yogi never had an official game at-bat for the Bombers in 1964, he did step up to the plate to face major league competition once – August 24, 1964, at Shea Stadium, in the Mayor’s Trophy Game vs. the Mets, the first one in the Amazins’ new park, and the last time he stepped up to the plate in an actual game in a Yankees uniform.

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Ticket stub (was rained out at least once), program, and 1964 Mayor’s Trophy Game info on Shea scoreboard

That week, Skipper Berra was already in a bit of hot water with the Yankee brass and the team themselves after the event that became known as the “Harmonica Incident”, just 4 days prior: Stuck in traffic on the team bus trying to get to O’Hare Airport after a 4-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago White Sox, Yankee Phil Linz, seated in the back of the bus with the other players, pulled out a harmonica (which he couldn’t play) and attempted to make noise with it. After a time, Berra, from the front of the bus, asked in general to whomever was making the harmonica noises, to stop. Linz, who hadn’t heard what Berra said, asked Mickey Mantle a few rows up to translate. Mantle impishly informed Linz that Berra wanted him to play it louder. When Linz did so, an angry Berra stormed to the back, told Linz to shove the harmonica in a certain place and (apparently) also slapped the harmonica away. After angry words and also laughter from many of the players present, Yogi returned to the front of the bus, and it had mostly blown over with the team – until the press got a hold of the story, including a segment about the incident a few days later in a monologue from none other than Johnny Carson (in what is known as the earliest preserved color segment from his show), below:

At the time it was a perceived loss of control over the team, especially with general manager Ralph Houk, who had been ready to discharge Berra since midseason. However, the event turned out to be an impetus for the Yankees, who went 30-11 after the incident to finish the season one game ahead of the aforementioned White Sox to win the 1964 pennant.

But back in August, 4 nights after the incident, Yogi, either looking to reassert control over the team, or just pull a grandstand play to loosen everyone up, found his chance in the Mayor’s Trophy Game, in the top of the 7th inning. With two men on and one out, the score 4-3 and the pitcher Jim Brenneman due up, the time was ripe for a big slugger to pinch hit and put the game away. Yogi’s choice: Himself. As described below within the Times article the next day (still heavy on the harmonica theme), Yogi grounded into a double play to end the inning, and his Yankee playing career.

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Herewith, the last box score with Yogi Berra as a Yankee (0 for 1):

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An interesting followup to the above article is Casey Stengel’s insistence on Berra coming over to catch for the Mets, with Casey’s humorous asking price of a then-exorbitant $200,000. Of course, as most are aware, despite the late-season surge to win the pennant, the Yankees again lost the World Series, this time to the Cardinals, and the front office, with the harmonica event likely still in their minds, fired Berra as manager. So, per Casey’s premonition, Yogi did indeed come to the Mets in 1965, but for the far more reasonable salary of $35,000, and as a unique “catcher-coach”. Yogi’s beautiful last player baseball card from the 1965 Topps set says it all (albeit in a Yankee uniform sans cap):

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In 1965, while Casey must have been thrilled, as it turns out, Yogi was much more coach than catcher, but did play in 4 games for the Mets that year, 3 at Shea Stadium:

First game (on the road), 5/1/65 at Cincinnati, 0-1 as a pinch hitter.

5/4/65: vs Phils at Shea, 2-3 (2 singles, a run scored). Caught the whole game.

5/5/65: vs Phils at Shea, 0-1, pinch-hitter in 8th.

Sunday, 5/9/65: vs Braves at Shea, first game of a doubleheader, caught the entire game, batting 7th, but went 0-4 with 3 K’s against Tony Cloninger (in his 24-11 season with 211 K’s). He came up in the 9th with two on, but grounded into a forceout, and called it a career.

So, the final tally for Yogi at Shea: 2-9 (.222) in 4 games (1 as a Yankee, 3 as a Met), with 2 singles and a run scored. And It was Over. Except…that harmonica would come back to haunt him again in 1967, when still a coach with the Amazins, Linz himself became a New York Met (below)!

PostScript: As for Yankee Jim Brenneman, the pitcher who Yogi pinch-hit for in the 1964 Mayor’s Trophy Game, and who marveled at how “beautiful” brand new Shea was on that August night (article above), that game also had special significance – it would be his only start on a major league mound, in his short career of 5 total appearances against major league competition. Unfortunately, while he pitched 6 strong innings at Shea that night, surprisingly he did not get the win (the judgment of the official scorer in those days). In regard to his 4 other appearances, all were in 1965 – 3 were official (in relief 7/9, 7/17 & 7/23), and interestingly, on 7/9/65 he was pinch-hit for again – this time by Mickey Mantle. So he was only pinch-hit for twice in his career: by Berra, and by Mantle.

That 4th game in 1965? The Hall Of Fame Game at Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, NY, on 7/26/65, Yanks vs Phillies, his final major league appearance. He came in in relief, pitching 4 1/3 innings – he walked 3 but only surrendered a solo HR in the 9th – and finished the game…and got the only “official” win of his career against major league competition. He was out of baseball by 1966.

Now, It’s Over.

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2 thoughts on “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

    1. Wow, glad you found it! Saw him quoted in that NY Times article, and thought how amazing that game must’ve been for him, just up to the majors and all. And he was as much a part of that game as Yogi and the others. I like to make a point to highlight lesser known players that would otherwise be forgotten, and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Take care.

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