I had the privilege of meeting Yogi in the early 1980s at the annual Sports Night Dinner held at Mayfair Farms, in West Orange, NJ. He was standing alone near the back of the room when I approached him. We spoke for only about five minutes. He was cordial and gracious. The only part of our conversation that I remember was asking him whether the train travel early in his career and later, those many plane flights from city to city, ever got to him. His answer was immediate. "Never, I loved it all." I really wasn't surprised by the response. And as the years passed and his managing and coaching days finally ended, the abundant energy from those earlier days never ceased. He could not wait each year to hop a plane for the Yankees spring training camp in Florida and be part of the action. Whenever asked, he was only too happy to participate in the myriad of baseball excursions and charitable events. This remained a major staple of his regular lifestyle until traveling was no longer an option. And there was something else I recall from that evening. While we were speaking, a gentleman presumably in his early sixties approached us and asked Yogi if he remembered the type of pitch he hit for a home run in the third inning of a day game against the White Sox, at Yankee Stadium in the mid-1950s. Unbelievable, I thought to myself. Is this guy kidding? How could he ever expect Yogi to remember such specific stats from a non-championship game that took place some thirty years earlier. But sure enough, Yogi told the man he did remember the game, AND the pitcher's name, AND the type of pitch he hit out of the park. Whether he was just being polite or really did recall that game I won't speculate, but his warm-hearted response in answering the question, (one of the many obscure type questions he was certainly asked through the years), made the man's eyes glisten with joy. This is but one of many sides to his professional career and personal life that demonstrates how happy he made people feel, and just how considerate and approachable a man he was, to both sport fans and non-sport fans alike.
Yogi Berra was a magnificent athlete and Hall of Fame catcher who will be remembered for as long as the game of baseball is played. He received the American League's Most Valuable Player Award three times. He won ten World Series with the Bronx Bombers and played in seventy-five World Series games. Both marks are all-time records. More importantly, he will be remembered as a kind, sincere, and humble person, a great American, a patriot who served his country well, and one who placed God and family first in his life. Yogi always exhibited a warm and welcoming presence that touched our lives. It registered with us whether we had the good fortune of meeting him in-person or simply watching him for all those years on television. Never has a bad word been uttered about the man and no negativity attached to him. There are few among us who can make the same claim. Number 8 was the real deal.
Yogi Berra is a true folk hero, loved and admired by his entire family, many friends, teammates, and countless millions the world over. It must have been a wonderful celebration when his beloved Carmen, parents, and siblings greeted him at the pearly gates. And by now, Yogi is probably talkin' baseball with Casey, Joe D., Phil, Hank, Mickey, Billy, Elston, Moose and all his former Yankee buddies. Proud to be a New York Yankee. What a party indeed!
Thanks, Yogi, for so many wonderful memories, and an incredible life well lived. You are an inspiration to us all. God bless you. Rest in Peace.