The late Yogi Berra was known as a generous and kind man off the field, but behind the plate and in the batter’s box he was a force the opposing team hated to see. No player has ever matched his 10 World Series rings and likely never will. His three MVP awards and 18 All Star Game appearances are also otherworldly, the stuff that seems part of a fictional player’s biography.
Yet Yogi never soared higher than in his mid-1950s World Series appearances against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In fact, for a career so stacked with awards, you could argue Berra was robbed of the World Series MVP in 1956. On this tour through MLB history, we salute the great Yogi Berra and make the case why he deserved the Series MVP in ’56 over Yankees teammate Don Larsen.
The perfect storm of ’56
The Yankees World Series win that year was noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, following Brooklyn’s triumph in 1955, the Bronx Bombers were able to promptly reclaim the crown from their crosstown rivals. Second, it featured the only no-hitter in the history of the Fall Classic, a perfect game tossed by Don Larsen in Game Five. This superhuman feat almost immediately made Larsen the MVP, but looking at the full picture it becomes clear it was Yogi’s show.
Berra led the Yankees attack across the board with a .360 average, 3 HR, 10 RBI, and a gaudy 1.248 OPS, outplaying Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer in the process. He also caught all seven games without committing an error. Once the Series came down to a decisive Game Seven, the Dodgers had a massive advantage with 1956 NL Cy Young and MVP winner Don Newcombe taking the mound at Ebbets Field.
The Yankees started Johnny Kucks. Kucks (who won 54 games in his career) survives in the memories of few mortals these days, but the imposing Newcombe (who won 27 games that season) is a different story. It was a tall order for Yankee hitters that fateful day in Flatbush.
Yogi takes Newcombe deep, twice
Berra got to Newcombe first with two outs in the top of the first inning. After a Hank Bauer single and strikeouts by Billy Martin and Mantle, Yogi launched a two-run bomb, putting the Yankees up 2-0 before Brooklyn came to bat.
In the top of the third inning, what happened is the sort of thing Yogi would call “deja vu all over again.” This time it was Martin who singled and Bauer and Mantle who could not reach base, leaving one runner on with two outs in the inning. Again, Berra hit a two-run homer, putting the Yankees up 4-0 and likely sucking the oxygen out of Ebbets Field.
Talk about clutch two-out hits. If you have ever watched a World Series Game Seven, this type of early advantage means everything, and Yogi crushed the Dodgers’ hopes right out of the box in the elimination game. After Elston Howard homered to lead off the fourth inning, Newcombe was forced to depart and the Yankees rout was on. The game ended 9-0. (Kucks tossed a complete-game shutout.)
As for Larsen, the big right-hander appeared in only one other game in the World Series: Game Two, when he allowed 4 R (0 ER) in 1.2 innings in what turned out to be a Yankees loss. Of course, throw a perfect game in the World Series and baseball immortality is yours. Larsen deserves every bit of the legend he created that afternoon.
However, considering his performance in all seven games, Yogi deserved to be the World Series MVP of 1956. Maybe you can’t have it all. Yogi Berra certainly came close.