By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan)
BERGEN COUNTY, NJ- A United States Navy World War II hero and National Baseball Hall of Famer with the most World Series rings of all time, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra is the most revered baseball player in history. Berra stormed the beaches of Normandy in the D-Day invasion as a U.S. Navy gunner’s mate and rushed the mound as the catcher of the first Yankees perfect game. While he passed away at the age of 90 on September 22, 2015, Yogi Berra‘s memory and legacy live on through stories from anyone that came into contact with him.
Yogi-ism: (noun) A story about Yogi Berra that usually leaves the listener laughing, yet a little confused.
To me, Gene “Stick” Michael, New York Yankee everyman and mastermind behind the Dynasty years, recounts his favorite Yogi-ism from twelve years ago. Gene Michael‘s story of his conversation with Berra leaves the audience smiling, but wondering how many brothers there actually were in the Berra family.
Dennis Rasmussen (former Yankees pitcher 1984-1987), was lucky to have played for Manager Berra. “Yogi was like a big teddy bear and he was very comforting. He was just a great, hands off-manager”.
Due to his short stature, the 5’7″ Berra adapted a brand new mount-visit technique after a suggestion from Triple-A coach Stump Merrill. 6’7″ Rasmussen explained his favorite memory of Berra to me: “All of us were all bigger than Yogi. When he came out to talk to us, we had to get on the [grass] ground and he would stand on the [dirt] mound . . . to be [at] eye-level with us”.
Two-time World Series winning center fielder Mickey Rivers recounted, to me, a story where, as a kid, he met Berra on set of a Yoo-Hoo commercial. “This guy right here and being able to touch him and talk to him is that he was able to coach me. That was a great feeling to be around”.
He added: “And that’s a great feeling from a kid’s standpoint up to an adult’s standpoint you see a guy that you don’t believe you’ll be able to get to see coming up as a kid. A legend. That’s what a call a legend.”
When I asked what advice Berra gave him, he replied: “I’ll tell you what, the best advice he gave [was] just ‘do your natural thing’ don’t try to change and try to be like someone else. Do what you can do. Use your talent, your God-given talent. That’s what got you there”. Decades later, Rivers’ word-for-word recollection of the ‘legend’ Berra’s advice is quite poignant.
Yogi Berra and I: Two Italian-Americans at a Conference
I was selected to represent my college at the National Italian American Conference in Washington, D.C. in October 2008. Berra, born in St. Louis to Italian immigrants, was proud of his Italian-American heritage and its culturally inborn resilient work ethic. After all, Berra was a catcher- the most physically demanding and grittiest position on the diamond. In an interview, Berra explained: “My father came over first. He came from the old country. And he didn’t know what baseball was. He was ready to go to work. . . . My father believed in working. You know, bring that check home! At that time, it was the Depression and everything, and he didn’t know what baseball was“.
In D.C., after the Friday night show featuring Italian singers, the guests, including me, were filing out of the grand ballroom of the Washington Hilton. Through the crowd, I spotted Yogi Berra and his wife Carmen. A lifelong Yankee fan, I excitedly walked over to them and introduced myself. I could not help but notice the tie Berra was wearing: Yankee blue with images of baseballs, stadiums, and the all-too-familiar interlocking NY. As such an accomplished man, his humility is what stuck me the most. In a time void of exuberant contracts, where most Major League Baseball players needed second jobs to support themselves, Berra worked as a restaurant host, hardware store clerk, and suit salesman. For the work ethic instilled upon Berra from his heritage, I felt could relate to him. After he posed for a photo with me that night, his wife said: “Come on Yogi, it’s getting late”! … It was 9:30pm.
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