- 3B, SS, 2B, DH
- December 13, 1956
- 180 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-22-1977 with PIT
The saga of Dale Berra proves great genetics are not enough to make a great ballplayer. The son of all-time great Yogi Berra, Dale was an all around athlete in high school, twice being selected to the New Jersey All-State team in baseball and earning honors in football and hockey as well.
The Pirates selected Berra in the first round of the 1975 amateur draft in 1975 and assigned him to Niagra Falls where he led the New York-Penn League with 49 rbi’s in 67 games. Promoted to Charleston in 1976, the shortstop hit .298 with 16 homeruns and 89 rbi’s. Berra started 1977 with AAA Columbus and was hitting .290 with 18 homers when he was called up to the Pirates on August 22 to replace the injured Rennie Stennett on the roster. He played in 17 games, all 14 in the field coming at thirdbase, where he displayed catlike reflexes, but hit only .175.
Starting 1978 back in Columbus, Berra was having another fine season when he was called back to Pittsburgh at the end of July. He hit his first major league homerun on August 20 and his three run homer in the bottom of the ninth against Gene Garber gave the Bucs a 6-3 victory on September 3. Even though he contributed some other clutch hits during the Pirates attempt at a miracle in ’78, Berra finished at .206.
Berra opened 1979 with the Pirates, but played little and was sent back to the minors on July 1. He again hit very well in AAA and was recalled on when the rosters expanded on September 1. Filling in for Tim Foli at short during the first week of the month, Berra contributed two homeruns and had seven rbi’s in September, but he was ineligible for the postseason.
After three seasons of shuttling back and forth between AAA and Pittsburgh, Berra played his first full season in the majors in 1980, backing up Foli at short and Bill Madlock at third. He served the same role in 1981. Foli was traded at the Winter Meetings that year and Berra became the club’s fulltime shortstop in 1982, beating out Vance Law, another second generation ballplayer who was the son of Pirate great, Vern Law. Berra got off to a slow start at the plate and in the field. He was thought by some to be too bulky to play short on an everyday basis, but Chuck Tanner had faith in his natural talent and, starting in early June, Berra’s play improved dramatically. He hit .294 the rest of the year, and tied for the league lead in homeruns by a shortstop with 10. It was hoped Berra’s play would continue to improve by leaps and bounds in 1983, and while some sabermaticians give Berra positive marks in the field that year, those who watched him play, saw little improvement and his defensive statistics likely looked better than they were as the Pirate pitching staff relied heavily on sinker-slider type pitchers. Paling in comparison to his father on the field, even the nickname Pirate fans referred to him by referenced his lineage. He was called “BooBoo,” after cartoon character Yogi Bear’s diminutive sidekick. As in 1982, Berra put up fair offensive numbers for a shortstop in 1983, but in 1984, his offense took a slide and the boos he had heard when he made a mistake in 1982 and 1983 became louder and the Pirates almost had to move him out of Pittsburgh.
New York Yankees
Packaged in a trade with the Yankees, Berra went to work for his father, Yogi, who was managing for George Steinbrenner at the time. It marked the first time a son had played for his father since Earl Mack had put in token appearances for the A’s when Connie was managing them. Berra, Sr., of course, was fired by Steinbrenner early in the season and Dale’s abilities continued to decline and his name was mentioned in some embarrassing situations, including baseball’s drug trials. It should be noted, however, that Berra, along with Don Robinson, were the teammates that first encouraged Rod Scurry to seek help when the lefthander’s cocaine addiction got out of control and had been well-liked by his teammates who saw him as a fun-loving guy.
Pittsburgh drug trials
On September 9, 1985, Berra testified during the cocaine distribution trial of Curtis Strong that he shared cocaine with Lee Lacy, John Milner, Dave Parker, Lee Mazzilli and Rod Scurry while all were members of the Pirates, and that his own drug use peaked while he was injured during the 1984 season.
On February 28, 1986 Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth handed down suspensions to eleven players, seven of whom received a full season suspension, including Berra. All avoided the suspensions by agreeing to donate a small percentage of their 1986 salaries to a drug program and do community service work. The players who received the full year suspensions were allowed to play under the condition that they donated ten percent of their base salaries to drug-related community service, submitted to random drug testing, and contributed 100 hours of drug-related community service.
In April 1989, Berra was indicted in a drug raid that allegedly distributed $15,000 to $20,000 worth of cocaine each week in Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Union and his hometown, Essex County, New Jersey. In 1990, Berra was running a construction company in Cranford, New Jersey.
Berra played more games than any son of a Hall-of-Famer, topping Dick Sisler (853 to 799). His older brother, Larry, played briefly in the New York Mets organization, and his older brother, Tim, played with the Baltimore Colts in 1974.
Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia
- 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials, Baseball History, Charleston Patriots, Columbus Clippers, Dale Berra, New York Yankees, Niagara Falls Pirates, Pittsburgh Pirates, Portland Beavers, Rochester Red Wings, The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia, Tucson Toros