With the earlier Mantle post regarding a Yankees legend’s at-bats at Shea, 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.
Most die-hard fans are aware that Yogi’s official Yankee playing days ended with the 1963 World Series, after which he was named the Yankees manager for the 1964 season, after Ralph Houk was summarily dismissed following the WS loss. But although he never had an official game at-bat for the Bombers in 1964, he did step up to the plate to face major league competion 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 to the plate in an actual game in a Yankees uniform.
Skipper Berra was already in a bit of hot water with the Yankee brass and the team themselves after a very recent incident regarding Yankee Phil Linz playing a harmonica in the back of the team bus after a loss. Per Wikipedia:
Much was made of an incident on board the team bus in August 1964. Following a loss, infielder Phil Linz was playing his harmonica, and Berra ordered him to stop. Seated on the other end of the bus, Linz couldn’t hear what Berra had said, and Mickey Mantle impishly informed Linz, “He said to play it louder.” When Linz did so, an angry Berra slapped the harmonica out of his hands. All was apparently forgotten when Berra’s Yankees rode a September surge to return to the World Series. But the team lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, after which Berra was fired. It was later learned that general manager Ralph Houk had been ready to discharge Berra since midseason, apparently for a perceived loss of control over the team.
This game was soon after that incident, and Yogi, either looking to reassert control over the team, or just pull a grandstand play to loosen everyone up, found his chance 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 (which also had a heavy and unusual harmonica-incident theme), Yogi grounded into a double play to end the inning, and his Yankee playing career.
Herewith, the last box score with Yogi Berra as a Yankee:
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. Yogi did indeed come to the Mets in 1965 after he was let go by the Steinbrenner-esque Yankee front office, but for the far more reasonable salary of $35,000, 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):
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, 2-3 (2 singles, a run scored). Caught the whole game.
5/5/65: vs Phils, 0-1, pinch-hitter in 8th.
Sunday, 5/9/65: vs Braves, 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!
PostScript: As for Yankee Jim Brenneman, the pitcher who Yogi pinch hit for in the Mayor’s Trophy Game, and who marvelled at how “beautiful” brand new Shea was on that August night, that game also had special significance – it was his only start on a major league mound in his short career of 5 total games 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 his 4 other appearances, 3 were official, and in one he was pinch-hit for again – this time by Mickey Mantle. So he was only pinch-hit for twice: by Berra, and by Mantle.
That 4th game? The Hall Of Fame Game at Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, NY, on 7/26/65, Yanks vs Phillies, his last MLB appearance. He walked 3, and gave up a HR, but 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.