You may have heard that Yogi Berra passed away. As I often do when I hear about a former player in the news for whatever reason, I tend to look at his player page. Judging by the popular players searched box today, you are doing the same. When I look at Berra’s, the thing that pops out to me right away is just how consistent he was.
Wanting to put this apparent consistency in context, I asked the venerable Jeff Zimmerman for a little data help. Turns out my suspicions were well founded. Let’s take a look at three tables real quick:
Usually, players of this caliber have that one big year that sort of defines their career. Heck, even players not of that caliber end up having one random career year that defines their career. Not Berra, nor the other gentlemen on this list. Six of the others are in the Hall of Fame with Berra, and I could make a pretty decent case for the three (Whitaker, Randolph and Smith) who aren’t.
From 1950-1956, Berra posted between 5.2 WAR and 6.4 WAR every season, with his 6.4 WAR in 1956 ending up as his career high. That was during his age-31 season. It was the last season where Berra was a star, but he posted at least 2.2 WAR for the next five years, finishing up the run with 2.2 WAR in his age-36 season in 1961.
This list is even shorter. Berra knocked 30 homers in both 1952 and 1956, but otherwise never cracked 28. He hit 10 or more homers in 16 straight seasons. I can’t figure out how to search for consecutive season records, but in general, only 49 players have reached double digits in that many seasons. From 1949-1958, Berra racked up at least 20 homers.
You’ll notice that all but two of these players — Carbo and Deal — were/are catchers. There is a commentary there on how we measure catcher defense, but even with that said, there have been hundreds of catchers since Berra came into the league, and only a handful meet this criteria.
We could probably look at a few other statistics and end up with similar lists that put Berra in select company along the same lines as above. But we don’t need to. The point was that Berra was simply as steady as you could be for a very long time. That sort of player is an incredibly rare and valuable asset anywhere on the diamond. Having that sort of player behind the plate is remarkably valuable. Berra wasn’t the only reason the Yankees were a powerhouse team in those days, but having that steady influence behind the plate had to make life a hell of a lot easier for the Yankees.
I don’t know the best characteristics to leading a long life, but I’m guessing one of them is being consistent. If Yogi Berra was as consistent in life as he was in a big league uniform, then it’s no wonder he lived to be 90. Rest in peace, Mr. Berra.
Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.
Lou Whitaker is a Hall of Famer
Should be, no doubt, right alongside Trammell, but sadly not.
Best DP combo in baseball history. By far.