Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Lifelong Yankee Fan Remembers Yogi ( news there!)

By Peter Rodman

They still sell these illustrations on the streets of New York City for five bucks or so, but I guess not too many people frame them and hang 'em in their laundry rooms. (Any wonder I'm single? )

Like a few of you, I'm sure, I am old enough to have seen all
Your faithful correspondent, 1978
these guys play baseball together at Yankee Stadium several times, as far back as the fabulous 1961 season. I can still remember every player at every position that year, and even their back-ups. (As comedian Robert Klein once put it, "I had a permanent 'NY' dent in my forehead!")
You knew Yogi was as much a legend as anybody there...there's a reason there are three guys in the above illustration, and not just two.
He was in his sunset years by the time Roger Maris came along, and yet it never seemed odd to us kids that Berra was the last guy in the lineup who'd actually played in the '40s, with Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Crosetti, and the rest. 

Back when Yogi came up, the Yankees still carried six catchers on their roster, and first-stringer Bill Dickey wore the number "8."
They'd never need six catchers again.
Nor would there ever again be any doubt--even with all of Dickey's own accomplishments--who eventually OWNED the (now retired) #8 Yankee uniform.

Jerry Seinfeld often jokes that these days, baseball fans just 'root for laundry'--since the players change teams so often, we hardly know their names.
Not so, in Yogi's time.
I can still remember watching the games on WPIX, (Channel 11 in NY)...and Berra was the clutchest of all clutch hitters. While Mickey struggled with his legs and struck out as much as he homered, and Roger Maris hit what they (unfairly) disparaged as "cheap" homers over the short right field fence, Yogi was a stone powerhouse.
Credit:  The Yogi Berra Museum
But he could bunt as well as swing away, and he often clobbered the ball to the upper deck of the opposite field--not something everyone can do.  His defensive play behind the plate alone would have made him an all-star. He was like a brick wall; nothing got past him safely.
Anyway, that's a thumbnail sketch of the player

Then came the coach, the manager--and the coach and the manager again. All good.

eorge Steinbrenner never apologized to any Yankee for

anything that I know of, besides Yogi--who literally stayed away from Yankee Stadium for 14 straight years after his abrupt firing as manager in '64. (His sin was losing the seventh game of the World Series to the Cardinals, and it stung even more because he was fired by Ralph Houk, who'd been his own Yankee manager and predecessor.)  
They should have given him a *medal* for getting a lousy team that far! (Mantle was literally on his 'last legs,' and Maris had faded almost as fast as he rose.)

During Yogi's extended boycott, every single Yankee fan *knew* something wasn't right in the world.
The team stunk. People lost interest.
And even the acquisitions of Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter from the A's wouldn't "fix" the Yankee spirit, until Yogi Berra came back, for real. It wasn't until he did, and the team once again got his blessing, that a new 'Yankee dynasty' was born.

Without exception, Yogi Berra became the most beloved living Yankee.
And then there were the sayings--the 'Yogi-isms' which perhaps more than anything, cemented his legend.
Phil Rizzuto (as a Yankee announcer) had started quoting Yogi "sayings" on slow game days, but it was probably Yogi's boyhood chum from St. Louis--Joe Garagiola--who actually

enshrined (and sometimes embellished) the stories, endlessly reciting "Yogi quotes," until finally there were books and talk show appearances, making another whole 'life' for the Italian fireplug behind the plate.
His malapropisms made even Ringo Starr seem like a pale imitation. Ringo once famously blurted out, "It's been a hard day's night," giving his bandmates the title for a movie. That was good enough, and very Yogi-like.

But Yogi was the Heavyweight Champion of such sayings. (Ogden Nash may have been his equal, but he made his stuff up on purpose. Yogi Berra was truly 'a natural.')
Now that he's gone, the internet will no doubt add FAKE quotes to all the real ones, as it likes to do, with all kinds of memes that start out accurate and end up fiction, because that is the time we live in--when people attempt to feel 'legendary,' by attaching something THEY thought up to a famous name, not their own.
What a world, eh?
That widespread (and relatively new) lack of integrity was foreign to Yogi Berra.
In fact, he was so modest, he'd often shrug when asked about a particularly famous quote, and say "I'm not sure. They TELL me I said it..."
His humility had the ring of truth you can bet will disappear within a few months, as one after another, folks add their lame quotes to his image, and pretend. (Just like they have with 'George Carlin' and so many others.)
That's the age we're in now.  The age of liars. Photoshop. False colors and enhanced images. 
Yogi Berra came from another time entirely, which wasn't over ' really is over now.
And ya know what?
Yogi was right about the whole game, be it baseball or life.
" got late early."

This opinion column is Copyright 2015 by Peter Rodman. 
All Rights Reserved.


Here's a cool one hour documentary about Yogi Berra. Enjoy...

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