“We paid tribute to Yogi this morning in our team meeting. We recognized him. I’ve had an opportunity to meet and be in Yogi’s company. Yogi was a very, very nice man, nice to meet, always gracious. I always look at him as a terrific representative of those great Yankee years. I asked Eli (Manning) about him, too, and Eli said he was a very nice man.
“But to imagine the player that he was. I remember him as a kid, obviously. Can you imagine what he accomplished - three MVP’s, 10 world championships. How many batting titles? He was unbelievable. And not a big man. He swung that bat and he had that classic (routine) in the on-deck circle the way he did that then threw the bat off to the side. It was a classic.
“And he was in D-Day. He and Joe Garagiola were neighbors in St. Louis when they were kids. But how magnificent for a young kid like that. And the fact that he could stick to his business all those years, when quite frankly, others weren’t. And he was devoted to his wife Carmen. He lost her last year. But what a sports icon he was. Did his talking on the baseball field, and that was the key.
“When I was a kid, I was a Dodgers fan. But it was always the Yankees on television. My grandfather, who lived with us, he was a Yankees fan, so the black and white set was always on, it was always the Yankees. So I knew them all.”
I will never forget Berra from the first time I saw him. It was the mid-60's when he was Mets base coach and I could never figure out why people were saying so many flattering things about this short, dumpy man that used to be a ballplayer.
As time went on, and video would become more accessible and prevalent, I would find out why. Then the stories of the old timers started to make sense. Berra was a winner, a manager on the field.
As Robert Creamer, the baseball biographer, said in Ken Burns' seminal documentary, "Baseball":
Casey Stengel was asked by Birdie Tebbetts how he wins so much with the Yankees. He said, "I never play a game without my man."
That man, after Tebbetts did some research, was Berra. Most thought it would have been Mantle or another veteran. If Yogi wasn't catching, he was playing first base or the outfield. Stengel always had Yogi in the game plan.
I also have fond memories of Yogi taking over the Mets managerial job after Gil Hodges passed away in 1972. He guided the light-hitting Mets to the World Series in 1973, only to lose to the Oakland A's in seven games.