by Bill Blackwell
The news this morning that Yogi Berra, one of my childhood idols had passed away at 90 years of age brought back a swirl of memories. During my days in baseball I was fortunate enough to have met Yogi on several occasions, first with the Astros where Yogi served as a coach and good will ambassador for his friend and neighbor Dr. John McMullen, the owner of the team and later when I worked in the Yankee organization after “the Boss” and Berra had settled their feud after Berra was fired as Yankee manager.
Yogi was a great baseball man but as everyone knows he was subject to statements that sometimes bewildered the listener. We all know that a game “Isn’t over til it is over” and that “if you don’t go to peoples funerals they won’t go to your’s”. Of a popular restaurant Yogi reportedly said “no one goes there anymore…it is too crowded”, and that “I never said half the lies people tell about me”. Yogi was definitely a character. He was also a great player.
The diminutive catcher was listed at 5’7” and 160 lbs but even those figures might have grown like his reputation. He was a fine defensive catcher and a power source for the dominating Yankees of the 1950’s. Late in his career when Elston Howard and Johnny Blanchard were taking away time behind the plate, Yogi played a lot of left field and was the guy looking up at the ball leaving Forbes Field that Bill Mazeroski hit to win the 1960 World Series.
My favorite Berra story was told to me by former Mets shortstop Buddy Harrelson when he was managing the Columbia Mets in 1985. Buddy had great respect for Yogi having played for him during his time in Flushing. It seems that the team had been on a long road trip to the West Coast and when their flight landed Yogi’s wife Carmen was waiting at the gate with the other family members. Yogi saw her as he walked through the entrance and asked “what did you do while I was gone Carmen?” to which she replied “I went to see Dr. Zhivago”. Yogi just shook his head and asked, “Oh hell, what is wrong with you now!”
The world could use more characters like the kid that grew up on the hill in St. Louis. Yogi you will be missed by many…even those that never met you. I am sure that some of our great MSHOFer’s like Jake Gibbs could tell you even more about the man that was his teammate. Visit the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame to learn the stories we tell everyday.