When you think of legendary sports photos, few tell a story quite as graphically as the 1956 shot of a euphoric Yogi Berra in a leaping bear hug with teammate Don Larsen, who’d just pitched a perfect World Series game. The rarity of such a moment is borne out by the very definition of a “perfect game” – it must be both a no-hitter and a shutout, with no hits, walks, batters struck or bases reached for any reason. This feat has been achieved only 18 times in the history of Major League Baseball – 16 times since the modern era began in 1900. Fast forward to 2010, 54 years after that rapturous moment in New York Yankees history, and there’s a new postscript to add to the story: the uniform Yogi wore on that unforgettable day has surfaced and will be auctioned by Grey Flannel in a mid-April sale.
The owner of the uniform, former New York Yankees prospect Ron Stevenot, was given the uniform at age 17, on the day he reported to Yankee Stadium to begin the most memorable year of his life.
“It was 1959, and I had just graduated from Port Jefferson High School in Long Island (N.Y.), where I had been the catcher on the school’s team,” Stevenot recalled. “Our team had won the county championship, and after graduation, the Yankees sent me a letter asking if I’d like to try out for the New York Yankees Rookie Team, which I did. When they selected me for the team, I felt like I was walking on air… Along with other promising high school prospects from the New York metro area who had been chosen, I reported to the Yankees locker room, where we were issued our uniforms.”
Each of the new prospects was given a uniform that had been worn by a Major League Yankee in a prior season. “I remember that I wanted Mickey Mantle’s uniform, but someone else had claimed it, so I took Yogi Berra’s old uniform. Those uniforms we were given were the ones we were going to wear for the whole summer as we toured New England.”
As it turns out, the Berra uniform Stevenot received was from 1956, the year the Yankees won the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The year “1956” was sewn onto the jersey’s shirttail along with Yogi Berra’s name, and on the jersey’s back was the number “8.” The letters “N Y” appeared on the front, indicating it to be a home jersey.
“I went home to try on the uniform, although if it didn’t fit, it didn’t matter to me,” Stevenot said. “My mother took in the pants a bit, but she didn’t cut them. The jersey wasn’t touched at all.”
Stevenot went on to sign a contract with the Yankees to play in the Minor Leagues and spent half a year with the team in St. Petersburg, Florida. Eventually he was released and went on to pursue a successful career as a land surveyor. But throughout his life, he kept the memories and the Berra uniform.
“My greatest memory is that I was allowed to work out with the Major League Yankee team at Yankee Stadium before their game against the White Sox,” Stevenot said. “They asked me if I wanted to give Yogi and Elston Howard a night off, and I got to be the catcher during batting practice that Mickey Mantle threw. It was the thrill of a lifetime to be able to play on the same field as all of those greats.”
As for the uniform itself, when Richard Russek, president of Grey Flannel Auctions, had the opportunity to examine it, he had an immediate hunch it might be the very one Yogi Berra had worn on the night Don Larsen pitched that perfect World Series game in 1956. The uniform was first compared to blow-ups of the famous photo of Yogi bear-hugging Don Larsen. To the naked eye, it was clearly a match, but further verification was required. The uniform was taken to Grey Flannel’s headquarters where it was painstakingly compared to DVD “stills” of the perfect game.
“Every Yankee pinstripe is like a fingerprint to when the jersey was worn,” Russek said. “We compared the way the pinstripes matched up to the ‘N’ and ‘Y’ on the front, how they matched up to the collar and the sleeves, and it was an exact match. It is the uniform Berra wore as catcher during the perfect game.”
The New York Yankees home uniform worn by Yogi Berra during the 1956 World Series perfect game will be offered with a $50,000 reserve in Grey Flannel’s Summer Games Auction, closing for bids on April 14, 2010. All forms of absentee bids will be accepted during the auction, including by phone and through Grey Flannel’s Web site at www.GreyFlannelAuctions.com. Printed catalogs are free to all registered bidders. The fully illustrated electronic version of the catalog will soon be available to view online at www.GreyFlannelAuctions.com. For additional information, call 631-288-7800, ext. 223; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.