CHICAGO — Yogi Berra, one of the most popular figures in New York Yankee history, was fired Sunday as manager of the club and was replaced by Billy Martin, who takes over as the team's manager for the fourth time.
The action came after New York lost, 4-3, to the Chicago White Sox, dropping the Yankees' record to 6-10, last in the American League East.
"This action has been taken by the Yankees, and we feel it is in the best interests of the club," New York owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement.
Yankee General Manager Clyde King, who issued the statement from Steinbrenner, said the owner told him "he would rather fire 25 players than fire Yogi, but we all know that would be impossible."
Martin begins his fourth stint as Yankee manager tonight when the club plays the Texas Rangers.
There was no immediate word on whether Berra would be reassigned to the front office.
Steinbrenner had said during spring training that Berra would be the manager for the entire season regardless of how the team performed. He made a similar promise to Bob Lemon prior to the 1982 season and fired him after 14 games.
It became apparent last week, however, that Steinbrenner was getting annoyed at the way Berra was handling the team. The club lost five of six games to their arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in successive series, and Steinbrenner complained about the club's lack of discipline on the field.
Steinbrenner also was upset over most of the team's failure to attend an optional workout last Monday and blamed Berra for not being more authoritative.
"When you have to listen to it (the rumors) every day, you know what can happen," Berra said. "This weekend, I don't think it had anything to do with it. We lost a couple of one-run games (including a 5-4 loss Saturday in 11 innings). If we had gotten blown out, that probably wouldn't have changed his mind. We have a good ballclub. It's not jelling right now."
"This is the hardest thing for me to take," said pitcher John Montefusco. "Yogi was a friend to everyone, but it wasn't Yogi's fault. Nothing surprises me anymore."
Steinbrenner bought control of the Yankees in 1973. Since that time he has changed managers 12 times, with eight different men holding the position.
Berra was hired on Dec. 16, 1983 and then-manager Martin given a job switch by Steinbrenner.
Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher for the Yankees, had been a coach for New York since 1976 and had often been rumored as a possible managerial replacement. He had managed the Yankees in 1964, but was fired by the Dan Topping-Del Webb regime, after winning the American League pennant and losing the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Berra hooked on as a coach with the New York Mets and, when Gil Hodges died, stepped up to the managerial slot. He guided the Mets to the National League pennant in 1973, but lost the World Series in seven games again--this time to Oakland.
When given his two-year contract to manage the Yankees, Berra explained the motivation behind taking the job. "My age had something to do with it," he said. "I've achieved just about everything a man can achieve in this game. I've won the Most Valuable Player award, I've made the Hall of Fame and I've won two pennants as a manager. But I've never won the (world) championship (as a manager). I felt that this club is capable of winning one. In the past, when George talked to me about the job, I didn't really know the players that well. But I think I know these guys real well and I think they can win."
At the time of Berra's hiring, Martin had concluded just one year of a 5-year $1.5 million contract. Steinbrenner said at that time of Martin, "I'm shifting people around. Nobody is leaving. I'm doing what's necessary for everybody's best interests, not just mine and Billy's but for the team's, too."
Berra survived a 1984 season in which he was often rumored on the way out during the first half when the Yankees fell out of the race. However, the team, though never challenging for the division crown, rebounded with the best record in baseball over the second half of the season to save Berra's job.
Berra was the Yankee catcher for 19 years and participated in a record 14 World Series. He was voted the AL's Most Valuable Player award three times and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972. He hit 358 home runs and became one of the most popular players in the club's history.
Martin, also a member of the Yankees during their championship years of the early 1950s, first became manager of the team on Aug. 1, 1975, after Bill Virdon was fired. Under Martin, the Yankees won the AL pennant in 1976 and the championship in 1977.
However, he resigned on July 24, 1978, a day after calling star outfielder Reggie Jackson a born liar and Steinbrenner a convicted one. Bob Lemon replaced him and led the club to the championship.