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Remembering Yogi Berra, baseball great on and off the field

Yogi Berra has died at the age of 90. In 1946 he joined the New York Yankees, where he became a linchpin player on 10 World Series-winning teams. But the baseball giant was also famous for his way with words. Judy Woodruff remembers Berra with Allen Barra, author of "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee."

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally tonight: the passing of a baseball great and beloved American character, Yogi Berra, who died yesterday at the age of 90.

    Yogi, as he was universally known, first joined the New York Yankees as a catcher in 1946, where he became a linchpin on 10 World Series-winning teams. Later, as team manager, he led both the Yankees and the New York Mets to league championships. He was also famous for his knack for the oddly turned phrase.

    For more on his life and legacy, I am joined by one of Berra's biographers, Allen Barra, author of "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee."

    Allen Barra, welcome.

    Let's talk first about Yogi Berra the baseball player. What made him a standout?

    ALLEN BARRA, Author, "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee": Well, it's hard to say.

    Yogi was tremendously talented, but he certainly didn't look it. He was stumpy. He was 5'8", didn't look like he had an athlete's body. The first time Ted Williams, you know, who was the John Wayne of baseball, towering, imposing figure, 6'4", stands up to the plate and looks down, and there is this little, ungainly guy, none of the equipment fit — the chest protector, shin guards, nothing fits.

    Yogi looks up at him and says, "How you doing?" And Ted just says to himself, "Who are they trying to fool with this blank-blank guy?"

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But he led…

  • ALLEN BARRA:

    And Ted Williams turned out to be one of the biggest fans. He loved Yogi.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But he led the Yankees in, I read, runs batted in for seven consecutive seasons?

  • ALLEN BARRA:

    Yogi was a 14-time All-Star. He was a terrific hitter who never struck out. He had an incredible batting eye. His hand-eye coordination was outstanding. And in that little 5'8" body, he was compact and powerful, and almost impossible to strike out.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you told us that — you said to us today, you said he was the most beloved American athlete, with the possible exception of Babe Ruth. What made him so beloved?

  • ALLEN BARRA:

    Yogi was loyal. He was friendly. He was a great American winner.

    I mean, any coach or player you talk about who won a lot of championships, won a lot of games, Yogi's got to be on that list. As you said, 14 pennants, 10 World Series. And yet the thing that separates Yogi, I think, from all other great American winners in sports, Yogi always seemed to be playing. He seemed to love playing the game.

    There is probably no one that had — enjoyed the game more, had more relish out of playing it. And I think that got passed on to everybody. His opponents loved him. His manager loved him. Sportswriters loved him because he was great copy. He would say almost anything, and they could — and if it wasn't altogether usable, let's say they could just rewrite it until it was.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Where did that come from, the Yogisms? "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." Where do those lines come from?

  • ALLEN BARRA:

    There's two kind of Yogisms, basically. There's — well, I would say three kinds.

    There's the Yogisms, the things that he said that he didn't say. And then there's the malapropisms, like when the — Yogi Berra Day in Saint Louis in 1947, he says: "I would like to thank everyone for making this day necessary." That was just a slip-up.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • ALLEN BARRA:

    Then there are the Yogisms that make a lot of sense if you think about it. Now, you just cited one, one of the — I think one of the best, one of my favorites. He said, "When you come to the fork in the road, take it."

    What did he mean? He was telling a reporter how to get to his house. He was in a cul-de-sac. He meant, no matter which way you go, you're going to be there.

    That was just a great way of saying it. I think almost anything Yogi said like that, he would say it in fewer words and get to the point quicker than just about anything who — anyone who voiced a similar sentiment.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, I read that the cartoon character Yogi Bear, who came out…

  • ALLEN BARRA:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … I guess in the late '50s, was named after Yogi Berra, but Yogi Berra didn't like that.

  • ALLEN BARRA:

    I asked him about that once.

    And he said — he says, "I'm not saying I don't like the bear." He said, "The bear's OK." But he didn't like the idea that people would think of him as a cartoon character. He wanted to be taken seriously.

    Most of the things that he said that people laughed at were just things that were said in the clubhouse, said to reporters. He wanted to talk to people. He wasn't like a lot of athletes today that were afraid to talk to reporters and didn't know what was going to come of that, how they were going to be quoted.

    Yogi would take his chances. He would talk about just about anything. And you have to remember, too, since the Yankees won almost every year back then, they were usually in a good mood, and Yogi was in a good mood to talk. So…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, he was somebody I think everybody thought they knew.

    Allen Barra, biography of Yogi Berra, we thank you.

  • ALLEN BARRA:

    Yes.

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