LITTLE FALLS, NJ – Friends and family of the legendary Yogi Berra gathered with the baseball great to celebrate his 90th birthday on Tuesday.
The celebration, which took place at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center located on the campus of Montclair State University, was complete with a ribbon-cutting to unveil new exhibits.
Among those exhibits were a complete set of 27 Yankee championship rings, including 10 he won as a player. Also on display were three of his Most Valuable Player awards, which were among the memorabilia that had been stolen in October 2014. Despite reward offers, the items stolen have not yet been recovered. Later that month, then-Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees and the New York Mets teamed up to donate the replica items taken in the heist. These items were revealed to Berra and the public for the first time since.
Berra, known as one of the greatest catchers and clutch hitters in the history of baseball, anchored the New York Yankees' dynasty for 19 seasons from 1946 to 1963. He went on to become manager of the Yankees in 1964 and manager of the New York Mets from 1972 to 1975.
During his career, Berra became a 13-time All-Star winner of 10 world championships, the most in baseball history, and three-time MVP in his career. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972 and a member of Major League Baseball's All-Century Team, Berra also became the first man in over 40 years to win pennants in different leagues (Yankees in 1964, Mets in 1973).
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony surrounded by Berra family members, the replacement items were revealed to the public and followed by a private birthday celebration.
In honor of Berra's birthday, May 12, 1925, both New York State and New Jersey officially proclaimed May 12, 2015 as Yogi Berra Day. Proclamations from each state were held by Berra’s granddaughters Alexandra and Kay.
The Drums of Thunder, percussionists from the Hillside Elementary School in Montclair, greeted Berra with an ensemble as he arrived. Luis Damico, the teacher who leads the group, brought along 34 students with him. He said, “We are sharing Yogi’s 90th birthday and it is an honor to be part of that.”
Berra, a Montclair resident, is one of four MLB players to be named MVP of the American League three times. As one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series, Berra has appeared in 21 World Series, winning 13 of them as a player, coach or manager.
Lindsay, Berra's granddaughter, expressed that after the robbery she felt much love and support from the baseball community. She said, “After so many years of him giving so much to baseball, it feels like baseball is giving so much back to my grandfather."
She spoke of the museum and learning center saying, "He really does love this place, he talks about it all the time and he loves to be here and tell people his stories and show people this stuff. ...This place is so much more than that, it's about sharing his values and instilling that... for the future.”
Dr. Ernesto Damiani said that they are starting a baseball center, which will be named after Berra, and a Little League in Italy. Damiani choked back tears as he presented a key to a city in Italy to Berra.