The many, many stories about Lawrence Peter Berra were a big part of my growing up.
My end of the baby boomer generation came all too late to have seen “Yogi” Berra’s 10 World Series championships, but just in time to enjoy the Yogi Bear cartoons.
When Yogi Berra passed away last week it brought back many cherished memories. I just hope his death wasn’t the end of an era.
I found “The Yogi Berra Story” in the school library when I was in the 4th or 5th grade and devoured it, falling off the couch reading the many, varied “Yogi-isms.” And then there were the same stories told all over again in “The Phil Rizzuto Story” and “The Joe Garagiola Story” and “The Mickey Mantle Story.” In many ways, it really was déjà vu all over again.
Yogi Berra was a funny guy without ever setting out to be a funny guy. He had cockeyed way of looking at baseball and life and, when you stop and think about it, a canny way of looking at the world.
OK, OK, saying “Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical,” wasn’t going to earn him any points as a mathematician. But he also said “You can observe a lot by watching,” and “It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”
What sometimes gets lost in all the hoopla over what Yogi said and how he said it was what Yogi did on a baseball field.
He was an 18-time All-Star and from 1950 through 1957 he finished in the top four for the American League’s Most Valuable Player, winning the title three times: in 1951, 1954 and 1955. From 1949 through 1955, on teams headlined by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, it was Yogi Berra who lead the New York Yankees in runs batted in.
But if you listen to all the stories about Yogi Berra and his life after baseball, he was the kind of guy who loved going to the ballpark day in and day out. He was easy-going and happy to tell stories about the guys he played with, but he never once bragged about his own exploits.
And those exploits included success as a manager after his playing career ended.
It amazes me that Mr. Yankee, for seven decades the face of the franchise, was humble almost to a fault while Mr. October, who accomplished a small fraction of what Yogi Berra did in pinstripes, has yet to stop tooting his own horn.
Players like Yogi Berra and his contemporaries, men like Henry Aaron of the Braves and Willie Mays of the Giants, Stan Musial of the Cardinals and Ernie Banks of the Cubs, were role models for how to play the game. Play hard, but always respect the game.
The more I watch the sporting news, the more I miss men like Yogi.
But in Yogi’s words, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
In the past four weeks we’ve had a high school football coach admit to ordering two of his players to blindside a football official, and three weeks later a player in Tennessee did the same thing.
Back in the day, it was news of someone TOUCHED an official. If Earl Weaver or Billy Martin chest-bumped an umpire during a game, it was enough to make the weekly highlight reels so we could see them summarily ejected from the game.
Occasionally you’d see a football official get caught up in a play and find himself on his backside in the middle of the field.
Accidents happen. But intentionally trying to injure? Unacceptable.
In recent years we’ve seen football players intentionally attempt to injure an opponent by stomping on their leg and we’ve had coaches and teams put bounties on opposing players, targeting them and attempting to knock them out of a game.
And sadly, we have seen that attitude and approach trickle down.
Already this season we’ve seen a BYU defender punch a Boise State player in a very sensitive place in hopes of creating a fumble. On national television with more than a dozen cameras all focused on the football from every conceivable angle.
In the same game a BYU player administered a forearm to the Boise State quarterback’s throat.
It’s hard to believe that athletes would ever entertain the thought of doing such things, let along actually doing it.
Sportsmanship isn’t dead and there’s still a majority of players who follow in the footsteps of Yogi Berra and the men of his era.
But maybe that’s thing about good sportsmanship.
“It’s never over until it’s over.”
Correspondent Steve Christilaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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