By Joe Rini
It was raining…batting practice was cancelled…so I walked from the field to the Mets Hall of Fame exhibit at Citi Field. Besides the plaques for the inductees, there are also display cases of Mets history. Endy Chaves’ catch in the 2006 NLCS is prominently featured but Yogi Berra is lightly mentioned, his image on a 1973 media guide. Should Yogi Berra be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame? I say, “Yes.”
A quintessential New York Yankee who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, Berra joined the Mets as a player/coach for Casey Stengel’s Mets in 1965 before ascending to the manager’s job in 1972 upon the death of Gil Hodges. One year later, he lead the famed “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets from last place in late August to the National League pennant before falling to the favored Oakland A’s in seven games. Two years later, Berra was fired but does one World Series appearance warrant Hall of Fame induction?
One Mets insider acknowledged to me that Berra was worthy of consideration but since his legacy was based on his Yankee career, his induction as a Mets Hall of Famer was unlikely but I believe it overlooks the era when Berra was associated with the team.
As the Mets forged their identity during Berra’s tenure with the team, rooting for them was also about celebrating New York baseball. If one cotton-swabbed the 1969 championship Mets, obviously the orange and blue DNA of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers would appear, but so would Yankee pinstripes. The 1969 champions were owned by a former Giants shareholder (Joan Payson) and managed by a former Dodger, with a former Yankee pitcher Johnny Murphy as general manager.
Additionally, Stengel and front office executive George Weiss, both famed members of the Yankees, helped lay the foundation for the Mets in the 1960’s (they and Murphy are in the Mets Hall of Fame). Also, when the Mets hosted Old Timers Days during that time, Yankee great Joe DiMaggio received thunderous applause at Shea Stadium and these same fans cheered “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke,” not just Willie and the Duke.
Most managers have the good fortune of succeeding a manager who’d been fired but Berra became manager under the worst of circumstances, taking over a veteran team upon the death of a beloved manager on the eve of Opening Day. Aside from the 1969 and 1986 world champions, his 1973 team is probably the most accomplished team in franchise history. As Rusty Staub told me a year ago about Berra, “His strength was in his subtleties…He never gave up hope. Yogi believed when he said, ‘It’s not over until it’s over.’”
2015 will mark the 90th birthday of Yogi Berra as well as the 50th anniversary of his joining the Mets. The illustrious Mr. Berra doesn’t need the accolades but before the achievements of Berra’s 1973 team recede into the dim mist of memory, as remote to current fans as “Tinker to Evers to Chance” (Google it if you need to), he deserves a plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame. The ceremony may lack the electricity of Mike Piazza’s induction last year but it would be a fitting homage to a legend and an era. If someday the Mets have the problem of having to induct a plethora of managers who made it to the World Series only once, well like they say about too much pitching – it’s a good problem to have.
Rookie Jacob deGrom added another page to the scrapbook of his stellar rookie season on Monday when he tied a major league record by striking out the first eight Miami Marlins he faced. While the Mets bullpen faded late that night in a 6-5 defeat, overall the team has played a respectable 9-6 in September. The Mets start a six game road trip Friday before concluding the season next weekend at home against the Astros.