Who hasn't, at one
time or another, knowingly or not, quoted or paraphrased one of Yogi Berra's famous
utterances? "It ain't over 'til it's over ," "Ninety percent
of the game is half mental ," "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," and
"It's déjà vu all over again ," are legend. They are affectionately known as "Yogi-isms."
The New York Yankees catcher, manager, and coach, Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, was born
on May 12, 1925. Hanna−Barbera's famous picnic basket snatching
Yogi Bear first appeared in
1958 (eight years after this article was written). According to legend, the ballplayer sued the bruin (not the
Boston hockey team) for allegedly misappropriation
his name. The similarity of not just the name, but the Barbera part of the creator's
name seemed too coincidental to be happenstance. Hanna−Barbera claimed Yogi Bear was patterned
after Art Carney's character, Ed Norton, on
The Honeymooners TV
show. Yogi's life story is typical of a sports-loving guy of his era; would that
it had been my era, too. I usually don't include this type of extraneous material on RF Cafe, but it
happened to be in an issue of
The Saturday Evening Post
that had a few items that are relevant, and a lot of engineers, technicians, and
managers I have worked with over decades have appropriated Yogi Berra's
Everything Happens to Me
Berra gets as good a laugh as anybody out of the stories some
writers cook up about him. "Why not?" he says. "They're funny."
By Yogi Berra, as told to Harry T. Paxton
How does Yogi Berra, of the Yankees - baseball's most kidded celebrity - feel
about the stories they tell on him? Are they really true? Here's what the inimitable
Yogi himself says.
I guess you'd say a lot has happened to, me for a guy just twenty-four years
old. Most of it was good. None of it was bad. The good I appreciate. The rest, I
don't let it bother me. Some people wonder why I smile so much, even when somebody
is giving me the needle. Seems to, me I got plenty to smile about. Where I grew
up in St. Louis, there wasn't much money. Boys had to, start working early. My three
brothers all had baseball offers, but they never got a chance to, go. Now here I
am catching for the New York Yankees. I make pretty good money. I have a nice wife
and baby. Lucky? Don't I know it!
People even tell me I'm lucky the way the sports-writers kid me. It's good publicity,
they say. I sure get the publicity, any little thing I do. I bump my car into a
palm tree. I get out on the ice with a hockey team. My tongue slips once when I
speak at Yogi Berra Night in Sportsman's Park. Everything that happens to, me, some
writers play it up.
Once I got beaned. The club had the doctors examine me, and one sportswriter
put in his paper:
"X rays of Berra's head showed nothing." That was a good gag. They tell me the
first time it was used was for Dizzy Dean. He's dumb like a fox. I'd be glad to,
be dumb like him myself.
There are a lot of those Yogi Berra stories. Maybe you've had some laughs out
of them. I laugh at them too. Why not? They're funny stories, even when things really
didn't happen like they say.
One time in Philadelphia the club put Frank Shea and me in a room with a folding
bed - the kind that disappears in the wall during the day. I thought we should have
regular beds, like the rest of the fellows. I was in the lobby with Shea, doing
some beefing about it. Shea began to, kid me, "Aw, you're just afraid the bed will
snap up in the wall with you during the night." Some reporters were standing around,
and the story got printed that I wouldn't sleep in a folding bed because I was afraid
it would snap up into the wall with me during the night. If they want to, write
them that way, it's okay with me. There's nothing I could do, about it anyhow.
I got no kick coming, not after what baseball has done for me. My pop worked
in the brickyard thirty years. When he started having trouble with his heart and
gall bladder about three years ago, I was able to tell him to quit work and not
worry. After a while he got feeling better, and he thought he should be working.
He took a job, but his trouble came back. I told him. "That's enough, No, more work."
He and my mom worked hard enough when they were raising us five kids - Tony,
Mike, John, me and our little sister Josie. We never went hungry, but, like I said,
there wasn't much money to spare. From the time I was about seven, we lived in one
of a row of yellow brick houses on Elizabeth Avenue, in an Italian section of St.
Louis called The Hill.
Carmen and Yogi Berra go over a batch of fan mail. They have
a son nearly five months old. Harry Saltzman photo.
I put in my time at Wade Grammar School, but I never could get much interested
in the books. What I liked mostly was sports. Any kind. There were about twenty
or twenty-five kids on our block, and they almost all felt the same way. School
let out at 3:20, and if you didn't get back home, into your overalls and out on
the street by 3:25, you might not get into the game. We'd play till suppertime,
and if it was still light, we'd come right back after supper and play some more.
We played everything. Baseball, corkball, softball, soccer, roller hockey, football.
Some nights we kept going so late the cops came along and ran us off.
We had some good athletes in our crowd: Benny Pucci got to the big leagues in
pro football. Last year he was with the Cleveland Browns. One of my special buddies
was Joe Garagiola, a kid about my age in the house across the street. He catches
for the St. Louis Cardinals now. Joe liked school better than me, but he was just
as crazy as I was about sports. We'd walk miles to some field any time we could
get up a regulation game. One afternoon we were in a soccer game that dragged on
till eight o'clock. When we came home that night, we got the worst licking of our
lives. It wasn't so much us being late. Our overalls were ripped up. Overalls cost
When we were about twelve or thirteen, a Y.M.C.A. man, Joe Causino, got us kids
to form a team and play in the Y leagues. We called ourselves the Stags. We were
in almost all the leagues they had. The only sport I never got to do much was basketball.
I was even in a table-tennis tournament. I lasted to the semifinals.
Another time, some of us were at the Italian-American A. C. watching a kid work
out in the ring. They were training him for the Golden Gloves. They began asking
for sparring partners, and the boys got me to go in with him. I didn't know anything
about boxing. I just started swinging, and I banged the guy around quite a lot.
Then the A.C. decided I was their boy. They had me fight a couple of times. When
my brothers found out about it, they made me stop.
But the sport I liked most was baseball, I wanted to be a ballplayer. My brothers
wanted to be ballplayers too, But my pop comes from Italy, and he I didn't know
anything about this baseball business. The family needed extra money, and he wanted
his boys to work at something that would bring in steady wages. Tony - we call him
Lefty - could have gone with Cleveland, but he had to stay on in the baking plant.
He's a foreman now. Mike could have gone with the Cardinals, but he had to stay
on in the shoe factory. He's a foreman too. John might have gone with the Browns,
but he volunteered for the Navy at seventeen, and he was out too many years.
Yogi yearns for the ball in vain as Eddie Robinson, of the Washington
Senators, crosses home plate the hard way. This year twenty-four-year-old Berra
is starting his fourth full season with the Yanks.
I quit school and went to work myself after eighth grade. I was fourteen. I kept
on playing ball every chance I found. I found plenty of chances - probably too many
for a guy who was supposed to be holding a job. I was in a coalyard for a while,
wrapping shell block coal. I worked on a soft-drink truck. Then I was a tack puller
at the shoe factory.
In 1941 a fellow in the neighborhood named Phil Alotta recommended me for the
Stockham Post American Legion junior team. The manager was Leo Browne. He used to
be a minor-league umpire. There were some real good boys on that team. Russ Steger
was the center fielder. Later he played fullback for Illinois. Freddy Hoffman got
to the Giants as a second baseman. Billy Goodwin got to the Red Sox as a pitcher.
Jack Maguire is up with the Giants this year as an outfielder.
It was Jack who gave me my nickname of Yogi. Some of us went to a movie that
had a yogi in it, and afterwards Jack began calling me Yogi. It stuck. Now everybody
uses it except my own family. My brothers usually call me by my real name, Lawrence.
Mom and pop make it Lawdy.
On different teams I've played different positions - all nine of them, I guess.
On the Legion team I batted fourth and played left field. But when I was invited
to tryout for the Cardinals in 1942, my Legion manager, Leo Browne, told me my best
chance was as a catcher. Joe Garagiola was invited too. I'd worked out in the mornings
for both the St. Louis clubs, but this tryout was the real thing. It didn't come
from Legion ball. It came from a WPA league Joe and me played in, where they had
the finals in Sportsman's Park.
Branch Rickey himself was at the tryout. He was still with the Cardinals then.
It was a great day for Joe Garagiola. They signed him up for their Springfield farm,
and gave him a $500 bonus. That was just enough to payoff the mortgage on their
house on Elizabeth Avenue. It was a sad day for me. Mr. Rickey told me I never would
make a big-league ballplayer.
I felt terrible. I went back to Leo Browne and told him what happened. He wrote
a letter about me to Johnny Schulte, a Yankee coach. Schulte looked me over and
offered me a minor-league contract and a $500 bonus. Things weren't so tough at
home any more, with the other boys out working. My brothers fought for me to have
the chance they didn't get. This time my pop said yes.
I guess Mr. Rickey must have thought I had something on the ball after all. A
few months after my tryout, he went from the Cardinals to Brooklyn. The next spring
a telegram came from Brooklyn telling me to report to the Dodgers' training camp
at Bear Mountain in New York. But by then I was all packed for the Yankees' minor-league
camp at Excelsior Springs, Missouri.
The Yankees put me with Norfolk in 1943. I only batted .253, but I had one real
bang. There were two games where I batted in a total of twenty-three runs. It seemed
like every time I came up the bases were full. I got about three home runs and six
or seven other hits.
Right after the season I went into the Navy. I had boot training at Bainbridge,
then I went to Little Creek Training Station in Norfolk. Finally they sent me overseas.
I was on a rocket boat during the Normandy invasion. It was a little boat, just
an officer and six men. Some of the time I manned a machine gun, and some of the
time I helped load a rocket gun.
When I got back to this country I had a thirty-day leave. Then I got orders to
report to the submarine base at New London, Connecticut. I thought, What is this?
I didn't volunteer for submarine duty. But they just put me in the welfare-and-recreation
section. I played on the ball team. There was Jim Gleason, who used to play for
Cincinnati and the Cubs; Gene Thompson, who pitched for Cincinnati and the Giants;
Joe Glynn, who did some catching for the Yankees, and Walt Masterson, who pitches
for the Red Sox now. I caught and played outfield. I caught against the New York
Giants in one exhibition game. I was hitting the ball pretty good that day, and
I understand the Giants tried to get me from the Yankees.
I was discharged in May, 1946. The Yankees had me report to Newark. They told
me to join the team at Rochester.
I roomed with Bobby Brown that year. He had this big book he was reading night
after night. When he finished I r asked him how it came out. Turned out it was a
book he'd been studying for medical school. I've been kidded a lot about that.
Myself, I go mostly for comic books and these twenty-five-cent mystery books.
And movies. I see a movie just about every day of my life. I like Greer Garson and
the Western pictures. And those Marx Brothers send me. In 1946 I saw their movie,
A Night in Casablanca, in every one of the eight International League cities.
We got into the league playoffs that year, but lost to Montreal. Then I came
up to the Yankees for the last week of the season. I got a home run in each of my
first two games.
The Yankees had some spring-training trip in 1947. Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba.
It was a break for me to get to see all those places. The veterans on the club played
some jokes on me, but nothing to bother about. Just the usual thing. There's
a saying in baseball that when they don't talk to you, that's when you have to worry.
If they don't kid you, they don't like you.
I was just a rookie in the 1947 season. They tried me at catching and the outfield.
I got in eighty-three games and hit eleven home runs. I batted .280. Bucky Harris
was always after me to pick out a good one at the plate. Maybe you've read that
one time before I went up he said, "Think before you hit, Yogi! Think!" Then I'm
supposed to have struck out, and come back saying, "How can a guy think and hit
at the same time?"
That's just one of those stories. But it's true that I swing at a lot of bad
pitches. I can't seem to hold back. I love to hit, and when I see that ball coming
up there, I want to sock it. I only get about twenty-five walks, a season. Most
long-ball hitters get three and four times that many. At least I usually get a piece
of the ball. I've only been striking out about twenty-five times a season too.
There was a Yogi Berra Night that summer at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. I
had to get to the mike and say something. I meant to close with "And I want to thank
everybody who made. this night possible."
I said my piece, and when I got back to the bench one of the fellows asked me,
"Do you know what you just said ? You said, "I want to thank everybody who made
this night necessary.'" I haven't heard the last of that.
I don't like speechmaking anyway. When I get asked out to speak during the winter,
if it's for kids, I tell them I'll be glad to come and answer questions, but no
speech. Or sometimes I go on a program with Joe Garagiola. Once we were at a banquet,
and I was being interviewed by Harry Caray, a baseball announcer in St. Louis. It
was just after I got married. He asked me what my wife's name was, and I told him
"That's not an Italian name," he said. "How come you didn't marry one of those
nice Italian girls on The Hill?"
"They had their chance," I said.
People laughed like hell. When I sat down, I asked Joe Garagiola, "Did I say
"No, Yogi," he told me. "You said just the right thing."
I had a hard time in the 1947 World Series. Those Dodgers stole a lot of bases.
They say a World Series is just another set of ball games, but I couldn't feel that
way about it. Every mistake counts so much when you have just those few games. But
along with my bad plays, there was one that I call my biggest thrill in baseball.
I got the first pinch-hit home run in the history of the Series.
That winter Joe Garagiola and I tooka box for the ice-hockey games in St. Louis.
We got to know some of the players, and they invited me to come out to practice
with them. They gave me some equipment, and I skated around and did some shooting.
I didn't scrimmage with them, of course. A photographer took a picture of me out
there on the ice with the team. There's a story that when the picture ran in the
New York papers, the Yankees' front office got all excited and wired me to stop
playing hockey before I broke a leg. It's just a story. I never heard a word from
One nice morning that winter I played a round of golf, and then went to Biggie
Garagnani's restaurant for lunch. It's Biggie's and Stan Musial's now. There was
a good-looking waitress there I'd never noticed before.
I said to Biggie, kidding, "How about fixing me up with that waitress? She's
Biggie told me she wasn't anybody a fellow could play around with, she was a
very nice girl. Her name was Carmen Short. She'd spent part of her life in St. Louis
and part in Salem, Missouri.
She'd done a lot of things - worked in an office, taught dancing, worked in an
aircraft plant during the war.
The more I thought about it, the more I decided I really did want a date with
her. But I couldn't get up the nerve to ask. After about a week I got Joe Garagiola
to agree to make it a double date for a hockey game with his girl, Audrie Ross.
Then I got Biggie to ask Carmen for me.
Would you believe it, she thought I was Terry Moore, of the Cardinals! Terry
is married, and Carmen told Biggie to tell me that she didn't go out with married
men. Finally he convinced her that I wasn't Terry Moore but a ballplayer named Yogi
Everything turned out fine. All season long we wrote each other every day, and
I called her up a couple of times a week on long distance. We got married the next
January. Joe Garagiola was my best man. Last November I was best man at his wedding.
It's been printed that before my wedding, I asked Pete Reiser if he was coming,
and then handed him an invitation, saying, "I didn't want to waste one of these."
It didn't happen. I don't know where they get some of those stories.
We didn't win the pennant in 1948, but I got to play in more games. I batted
.305 and drove in nearly 100 runs. They still weren't sure whether they wanted me
to be a catcher or an outfielder. Or neither, I suppose.
At St. Petersburg in 1949 Bucky Harris was gone. I was sorry to see him leave.
But Casey Stengel has been just as swell. He had Bill Dickey work with me in spring
training to try to make me better catcher. Bill taught me a lot. My throwing wasn't
very good. Bill told me the trouble was that I threw flatfooted. He said always
to take one stride in the direction I was aiming.
Another thing he told me was to get down on both knees when a pitch went into
the dirt, instead of just one knee. If the ball hits your thigh it won't bounce
as far as if it hits a shin guard. I did it in practice, but in a game I'd always
seem to forget, and go back to blocking them my old way, on one knee. At the end
of the season Bill was saying, "Wait till I get hold of you next spring!" But I
did remember to do it right three times in the World Series.
What most people seem to remember about me in 1949, though, is the way my car
went off the road in Florida and smacked into a palm tree. Some said that I was
reaching in the glove compartment for some gloves, only I don't own any gloves.
Some said I was reaching for a bottle of perfume.
The accident wasn't good, but it wasn't that bad. What happened was this: We
were living in a place a few miles from the field. I'd asked Carmen to get me a
bottle of shampoo because I wanted to wash my hair in the shower after practice.
I put the bottle on the seat and started driving along, not very fast, when out
of the corner of my eye I saw that the bottle was rolling off the seat. I took a
quick look to make sure no cars were near me, then grabbed for the bottle. Off the
road we went and into the palm tree. All I got was a cut knee, but the radiator
grill of the car sure took a beating.
The year 1949 was a great one for the Yankees. Those Red Sox made things tough
for us, but we finally beat them out. Fellows like DiMaggio and Henrich and Rizzuto
and Page were terrific for us. I was helping some until I broke my thumb in August.
I was out for several weeks. When I came back, my hand at the base of the
thumb was still swollen way out. I wound up playing 116 games and hitting .277,
my lowest average yet. I did manage to tie for sixth place in the league in runs
batted in, and I tied for ninth in home runs. I had twenty. In the World Series
I wasn't nervous, but I didn't do much. The Yankees won, though. That's what counts.
Carmen was with me in New York last season. We had an apartment in the Bronx.
She came out to the ball games with the other wives. She heard me get kidded a lot.
She says she's used to it by now. Carmen wasn't much interested in baseball before
we got married. Now she knows her stuff.
We went to a lot of movies. Carmen likes movies, too, only she can't go for the
Westerners. We played cards with different fellows and their wives. I guess you'd
say the fellows I go around with most are Phil Rizzuto and Frank Shea and Snuffy
Stirnweiss. But you're with one bunch one time and another the next,
Carmen is coming to New York again with me this year, but this season we're going
to need a baby sitter. We have a son now. He was born on December eighth. He weighed
eight pounds, five ounces, and we named him Lawrence Allen Berra. The Lawrence is
for me and the Allen is from my wife's side of the family. He's a strong little
thing. You ought to hear how he can yell. I say he looks like me, but it's really
too early to tell. There's a lot you have to do for a baby. I try to leave that
up to Carmen. I don't think I could field those diapers.
The three of us lived this winter with mom and pop in the house I grew up in
on Elizabeth Avenue. My young sister Josie is still there, but ,my three brothers
all have their own places now. I had some remodeling done inside the house. It has
eight rooms. That's big enough now. I figure this isn't a good time for me to be
buying a house of my own, and anyway, I'm not in St. Louis enough months out of
the year to make it worth while.
I kept pretty busy last winter. I played with a soccer team. I bowled. I shot
golf. I went to the basketball and hockey games. And I had a job. Henry Ruggeri
made me a greeter in his restaurant. My brother John works there all the year round
as a waiter. John does all right for himself too.
Ruggeri put out .advertising cards saying: "Your Genial Host Lawrence (Yogi)
Berra World's Champion Yankee Catcher Greets You From Ruggeri's." I put on a Tuxedo
and went on duty from 5:30 to 9:30 six nights a week. Henry always let me off early
when there was a hockey game. When I got invited to a boys'-club dinner or something
like that, he'd always tell me to go.
Ruggeri's is a pretty classy place. One night a young kid brought his girl. They
looked sort of scared, like they were afraid to take a table and sit down. I said
to them, "You ever been to a hamburger joint? It's the same thing." They seemed
to feel at home after that.
The restaurant game is quite a business. I wouldn't want to tackle it myself,
but I think I'd like to have a cocktail lounge when I finish playing ball. That
won't be for a while yet, I hope.
We say the baby is going to be a pitcher when he grows up, because he has such
long fingers. You never know. It's a funny thing, though, the children of most Yankee
ballplayers aren't much interested in the game. They'd rather do something else.
It's up to the kid. Whatever he wants to be that's all right with me. I just
hope he's as lucky as I was. I wanted to be a ballplayer, and I got to be one. I
hope I can be a good one this season. We'll have to be good to keep that pennant.
Posted September 21, 2023