Monday, February 22, 2010

The Catcher Project: Yogi Berra

Born: 5-29-25
Career: 1946-1965
Hall of Fame: Yes
Career highlights: AL MVP in 1951, 1954, 1955; second in 1953 and 1956; from 1950 through 1956, he never finished lower in the voting than fourth. Fifteen All-Star teams. Played in 14 World Series, 12 as a regular; won 10 of those World Series. Five seasons of 100-plus RBIs, 10 straight seasons of at least 20 homers.
Career slash line: .285/.348/.482

Games caught after age 30 season: 606. Age in last season as regular catcher: 34. Win shares after age 30 season: 169. Win shares after age 33 season: 70.

Yogi Berra had a war to fight before he got his career started — he was in on the Normandy invasion — but he was still only 21 when he made his major league debut. But it took a while for the Yankees to decide that yes, he really was a catcher; for a few years, he split time between the outfield and catching.

But once Bill Dickey finished "learning me all his experience" — Berra's memorable phrase —Berra was — in Casey Stengel's words — "my man behind the plate." During that remarkable run of top five MVP finishes mentioned above, Berra never caught fewer than 133 games and was usually in the 140s.

That took him though his age 31 season. The catching workload eased off at that point — 121 games in '57, 88 in '58, 116 in '59 — his last season as the clear regular. He was getting older, and Elston Howard was well past ready for duty.

Berra is the one catcher in this pool who clearly transitioned from catcher to another position in his 30s (outfield) and remained a regular, at least for a few years.

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