Yogi Berra died last week at the age of 90. He was a cheerful and wonderful presence on this planet, well known by one and all as a great baseball player—arguably the best catcher who ever lived—afterward a good coach and manager for both the New York Yankees and for the New York Mets, and after that a fine commentator of world affairs on this and that.
The son of Italian immigrants, he’d left school at age 14 and went to work to help the family. He done good after that.
During his career, and afterward, he’d sometimes say things that seemed right at the time that weren’t. Books have been written about this. He famously said that 90% of baseball is mental, and the other half is physical. He said, after losing a game, that we made too many wrong mistakes, and he said that to do well you can observe a lot by watching. That he said these things to newspaper reporters made him pretty famous. He’s probably most famous for saying about one particular game it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and about another, a very exciting game, it’s déjà vu all over again. Or, about a popular nightspot—nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.
I loved the story about how he met his wife, Carmen. She was a waitress in a luncheonette and after she took his order, he asked her out. I don’t go out with married men, she told him. He said he wasn’t married, and she said she thought he was Terry Moore, who was, and since he wasn’t, then, “OK, I’ll go out with you.” He married her a year later. They stayed married for 65 years. She died last year.
I also remember Yogi Berra coming out to the Hamptons one August day to be part of the annual Artist-Writers softball game. The year was 2001, he was 76 years old and, standing alongside Mayor Rickenbach, he threw out the first ball. He was here accompanying his son Dale Berra, who was about 50 and had been a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and briefly with the New York Yankees. On the Yankees, he played the same year his dad coached.
Dale Berra came up for the Artists in the second inning, tipped his cap and hit one of the longest home runs ever seen at the Artists-Writers Game. Heads turned to Yogi as Dale trotted around the bases. But Yogi was just smiling and didn’t have anything, memorable or otherwise, to say about that shot.
Lots of people will go to Yogi Berra’s funeral. Here’s what Yogi said about funerals.
“You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
He will be much missed on this planet.