The Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra

The Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra

by Phil Pepe
The Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra

The Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra

by Phil Pepe

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A collection of quotes, anecdotes, and malaprops from one of baseball’s wisest and wittiest personalities.
New York Times–bestselling author Phil Pepe takes readers along on Yogi Berra’s journey from St. Louis to New York’s Yankee Stadium, including all the stops along the way—from his days as a tack-puller in a women’s shoe factory, to a pre-game tribute in St. Louis, when he coined the phrase, “I want to thank all those that made this night necessary,” to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pepe explores Yogi Berra as a boy, player, hero, coach, manager, husband, father, and jokester, including all of the “Yogi-isms,” in an absorbing treatment that is simultaneously comical, thoughtful, and biographical.
Famous Yogi-isms:
- About a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
- On Little League Baseball: “I think it’s wonderful. It keeps the kids out of the house.”
- On why the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series: “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938120572
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 02/06/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 210
Sales rank: 544,907
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Phil Pepe has written more than fifty books, mostly on baseball, including collaborations with Mickey Mantle (the New York Times bestseller My Favorite Summer: 1956), Whitey Ford, Billy Martin, and Jim Kaat. His latest work is Core Four: The Heart and Soul of the Yankees Dynasty. He is a former Yankees beat writer for the New York Daily News and a past president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Read an Excerpt


Pal Joey

"I remember the first time I went to Yogi's house in Montclair," Joe Garagiola recalled with a smile. "I didn't know the first thing about New Jersey and I knew even less about Montclair. Naturally, I got lost.

"I made it to the town, all right, but I must have taken the wrong turn, because I couldn't find the street I was looking for. So I stopped to call Yogi for directions. I was near some big building, the Museum of Science, the sign said, but for some reason the people of Montclair call it The Library. When I told somebody my problem and asked where I was, he replied, Just say you're at The Library. Your friend will know where you are. Everybody in Montclair knows The Library. '

"So I called. 'Hey, Yog,' I said, 'I'm lost. '

"Where are ya?' he said.

"'Some guy says to tell you I'm at The Library.'

"'Oh,' he said, 'you ain't too far, just a couple of blocks. Only don't go that way, come this way.'"

They were like bookends ... like reflections in a looking glass. Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra were so much alike as kids, it was almost as if they were the same person.

They grew up in St. Louis, in a section known as The Hill. It was also called Dago Hill — a little patch of land not far from the heart of town. It sat there atop a hill like an island of privacy in the sea of activity that was the metropolis of St. Louis. The Hill was like a city within a city, inhabited in the main by Italian immigrants and their families living in neat, one-family brick houses.

It was not necessary to leave The Hill to subsist. Right there were the essentials of life — homes, churches, Italian groceries, bakeries, shoemakers, barbers, fruit and vegetable markets, and taverns. In that respect it was not unlike any first or second generation Italian neighborhood in any large metropolitan city in the United States of its time.

The time was soon after the Depression. In another time it might have been called a ghetto, and the people who lived there might have been considered poor enough to qualify for welfare. But the people of The Hill were too proud to accept charity, and the young ones never thought of themselves as poor. As long as there was food on the table and a pair of shoes to wear to church on Sunday and games to play like stoop ball and softball, how could they be poor?

"How long have I known Yogi?" Joe Garagiola asked. "I can't remember not knowing him."

The Garagiolas lived at 5446 Elizabeth Avenue on The Hill, in a small, one family brick house. Directly across the street, at 5447 Elizabeth Avenue in an identical house, lived the Berras — Pietro and Paulina. They had come to St. Louis from the little town of Malvaglio in the north of Italy, near Milan. The Berras had four sons and one daughter. They named the youngest son Lawrence Peter. They called him Lawdie.

Lawdie Berra was eight months older than Joey Garagiola. As kids they were practically inseparable. Their families were practically inseparable. Papa Berra and Papa Garagiola worked together, baking clay at the kilns of the Laclede-Christy Clay Products Company. Their two oldest boys worked together at Ruggieri's Restaurant, still a landmark on The Hill.

Yogi was Joey's best man when he married Audrie; Joe was Yogi's best man when he married Carmen. The Garagiolas had a boy, the Berras had a boy; the Garagiolas had another boy, the Berras had another boy; the Berras had a third boy, the Garagiolas had a girl.

"Our lives," says Joe, "are parallel."

What are the odds that two kids, born to Italian immigrant parents, living across the street from one another in a small St. Louis neighborhood, would, at one time, make up one-eighth of the starting catchers in the major leagues? How coincidental is it that both of them not only would play the same position but would throw right-handed and bat left-handed and that they would wind up living and raising families in the New York area — Berra in Montclair, New Jersey, Garagiola in Scarsdale, New York — and that both would be eminently successful in their careers, Joe Garagiola in television, Yogi Berra as manager of the New York Mets?

And yet, the boys who grew up with them on the Hill would not have been surprised that Joey and Lawdie would earn their livings in sports. It was sports that consumed them during their entire young lives, occupying their every waking moments, keeping them off the streets — or on the streets — playing their little games tirelessly and endlessly.

They played softball without mitts and football with rolled-up newspapers or bundles of rags tied in a knot. They played when and where they could, improvising their make-shift games, but on The Hill summer was the best of times. School was out, and the whole day was available for playing their games. The boys would get up early and have their breakfasts of bread and coffee, laced with sugar and lightened with evaporated milk, and then the truck from Laclede-Christy would come. Their fathers would pile on and go off to work, and the moment the truck was out of sight, the boys on The Hill would begin their summer games.

They played all day, usually without stopping for lunch. Then at 4:30 the whistle blew at the Blackmer Post Pipe Company. That was the signal for the game to end, no matter if the score was tied and there were two outs and the bases loaded in the last of the ninth inning.

At 5 P.M. sharp, the truck from Laclede-Christy pulled up at Elizabeth Avenue and unloaded a group of hungry fathers. The 4:30 whistle gave a boy just enough time to get home, pick up a metal beer bucket, dash down to Fassi's Tavern, have the bucket filled with cold, draught beer, and get it home and on the table before pop walked in the door. And heaven help you if the beer was not on the table when pop walked in the door.

There were times, when he got older, that Lawdie missed dinner completely. He was too busy playing baseball, which was then as it is now his great love.

One historic summer afternoon Lawdie Berra became "Yogi" for all time. It happens in any era, in any city, to a great many kids. A group goes to a movie, enjoys it, singles out a particularly interesting character with a strange name, pins one of their group with the name, and sometimes it sticks. Yogi stuck.

Lawdie Berra's movie was a travelogue about India featuring a Hindu fakir called a yogi who sat there with his arms folded and his knees crossed and a look of solemnity and sadness on his face. It occurred to one of their gang, Jack Maguire, that the Indian fakir, the yogi, looked like Lawdie Berra in one of his contemplative moods. From that day to this, Lawdie Berra has been Yogi to millions of Americans, to his friends, even to his wife.

The name was not meant to be insulting. If anything, it was endearing, something kids did then as they do now — their own private thing. It is out of such things that people are dubbed Moose or Rocky or Butch or Doc. Lawrence Peter Berra, called Lawdie by his family, became Yogi.

"As a kid, Yogi wasn't the town dummy — nothing like that," points out Garagiola, adding that his friend did have one idio-syncrasy. "He ate the strangest things. One of his favorites for lunch was to take a loaf of Italian bread, split it in half, put bananas on the bread, then smear mustard on the bananas. Johnny Columbo would watch Yogi eating his bananas and mustard sandwich and it would make him so sick to his stomach that he couldn't eat his own lunch and Yogi would wind up with Johnny's cheese sandwich in addition to his own banana sandwich."

Thinking back over the years, Garagiola's remembrances of his pal Yogi are that he was "a likeable guy. I guess we had our share of fights like all kids do, but nothing major, nothing that I can remember now. I just remember that Yogi was a likable guy and the best athlete in the neighborhood."

It wasn't an award or a prize he won, but as Garagiola points out, "Kids always determine who the best player is by themselves." They have the judgment of a super scout, and a foolproof way of showing who they think is best. He is always the first one picked when sides are chosen for their games. Yogi Berra was always the first one picked in any sport, always the one you wanted with you, not against you. He was the best at baseball, the best at football, even the best at pitching horseshoes.

When the kids of The Hill played football — touch football — Yogi would always switch sides when it was fourth down so that he could be on the side of the team with the ball. He was the best kicker in the neighborhood, a skill he developed playing soccer. He could kick the ball farther and straighter than anybody else, so he became the punting specialist on fourth down for both sides. In the huddle, he would always call the plays for his side.

Garagiola remembers one incident that occurred in Tower Grove Park, where the kids of The Hill often went to play.

"It was," says Joe, "just like a scene from a class B movie. On this day we were playing on one end of the field, and the South West High School football team was working out at the other end. Well, a football got loose and came to our end and Yogi picked it up and kicked it back — a tremendous kick. He was wearing sneakers, and he must have kicked that football 50 yards. So the coach came over and wanted to know who kicked the ball. We told him it was Yogi. Right there, the coach asked him to come to South West High to play football.

"Yogi said he couldn't because he had to go to work. But the coach was persistent. 'Just come to school three days a week,' he said."

But high school was a luxury the Berras couldn't afford. Yogi had to go to work as soon as possible, which was after he left Wade School, a vocational school, after the eighth grade. He worked at a variety of jobs. He loaded and unloaded cases of soda on a Pepsi-Cola truck, and later his brother, Mike, helped get him a job as a tack-puller with the Johansen Shoe Company. In the process of putting soles on women's shoes, the sole was cemented to the frame and tacks were put in to keep the soles adhering to the frames while the cement was drying. When the cement was dry, the tacks would have to be pulled out of the soles. That was Yogi's job, and his pay depended on how many pairs of shoes he completed. He was good for about $35 a week.

As a means of supplementing his income, and just because he enjoyed it, Yogi played sandlot baseball for $5 or $10 a game. And when the local Irish-American club staged weekly boxing shows, Yogi Berra became one of its more prominent attractions. He estimates he fought 14 times at the club at $5 per fight and was never defeated.

But it was baseball at which he excelled, and it was baseball that coursed through his veins. He was determined to be a baseball player, just like his hero, Ducky Medwick.

"We followed baseball on the radio," says Joe Garagiola, "when we were lucky enough to find somebody with a radio. Or we followed it with bubble gum cards. Like all kids, we had our individual heroes. Yogi's was Joe Medwick. Occasionally we would get to see the Cardinals play through the Knot Hole Gang program. They put us in left field, right near Medwick, and that's how he came to be Yogi's favorite player. That's why I can't figure out why Yogi and I began batting left-handed. We're both right-handed in everything else we do. Usually, kids will imitate their heroes, hit like they hit. If Yogi imitated anybody, it would have been Medwick, and he hit right-handed."

When Garagiola talks of his friend, it almost borders on hero worship. Here is the big television star, the sophisticated, urbane raconteur who is as glib as they come, who can make small talk with presidents, kings, and pontiffs, yet Joe Garagiola sometimes gives the impression that Yogi Berra was all he ever wanted to be.

It is understandable. What Yogi Berra did, he did naturally, his gift of natural ability emanating from a far greater power. Yogi Berra is what many men would like to be — a famous and gifted athlete.

When Joe Garagiola talks of Yogi Berra's ability as a baseball player, it is with reverence and awe and with the understanding of one who has been there but has fallen short; yet he speaks without envy. Never that, for no man can be more pleased with another's success than Joe Garagiola is with the success of Yogi Berra.

"Because he's such a pleasant guy," Garagiola explains, "not spoiled, not vain, just such a basic, simple, humble man. There's a lot going on inside him. I just wish he could say it better, because he has so much to say. He could also say some other things about people who have hurt him, but he won't do it. He's such a decent guy. And let me tell you something else; Yogi is no dope. If he tells you something, he may not be able to explain it as well as somebody else, but you can go to the bank on it."

Among so many other things he is, Yogi Berra is the world's greatest sports fan. He can tell you what's going on in any sport at any time. He can identify the best interior linemen in college football, and he can name the six best defensemen in the National Hockey League.

"Once while I was still working in St. Louis," Garagiola remembers, "I had to come to New York for something, so I called Yogi and asked him if we could get together for dinner. We met in the city, had dinner, then he said, 'Hey, come with me, I'm goin' to the Garden. There's a college kid playing there I wanna see.' I went with him, and that night we saw Oscar Robertson set a Madison Square Garden scoring record. Oscar was only a sophomore, but Yogi knew all about him. His interest in sports is boundless, and so is his knowledge.

"One Saturday we're doing the Yankees on the 'Game of the Week.' Yogi is playing left field and I notice him waving Mickey Mantle over from right center into straightaway center. I can't even remember who the hitter was, but after the game I asked Yogi why he moved Mantle.

" 'Mickey doesn't know it,' he said, 'but that guy never pulls the ball with two strikes on him.'

"The guy is anything but dumb. Paul Richards once said he was the toughest hitter in baseball in the eighth and ninth innings when the game was on the bases. He has the greatest concentration of any man I've ever known. He's a super card player, great at gin rummy. He has the ability to shut out everything else and concentrate on what he's doing, which is what made him such a great hitter, especially in clutch situations. If he says he's going to play cards, bombs could be going off in that room, he'll be concentrating on that card game.

"He was the same way as a hitter. If I were to make a composite of the perfect ballplayer, the one thing I would want from Yogi would be his thinking in the batter's box. You know the story about how his manager told him he had to think along with the pitcher when he was at bat and Yogi began grumbling. 'How can you think and hit at the same time?' he asked.

"He has a way of getting right to the core of the matter. He never thought himself into a slump. If you listen to him, he never was in a slump. There were times when he wasn't hitting, but he never believed he was in a slump. He could make that distinction between not hitting and being in a slump.

"Another thing about him that made him so remarkable as a player," Garagiola continued, "was his durability playing a position where it's almost impossible to avoid cuts or bruises or broken bones. Every catcher has to play hurt, but he played a lot of years for the Yankees during which he caught almost every game.

"One year he wasn't hitting well, and people kept making excuses for him. The papers talked about an allergy on his hands. Allergy, hell. That was a case of nerves. And there wasn't anything wrong with him that year except that his mother was dying and he couldn't concentrate on playing baseball. That's the kind of guy he is. He'd do anything for you. He'd give you half of whatever he had. If he hit a double, he'd gladly give you a single. He's a man who's good to his family, a sensitive man, not a guy who's going to do lines for you. He's not a funny guy and he shouldn't be depicted as a funny guy."

Garagiola could remember only twice when Yogi got angry as a kid. Once was at the Roosevelt High School field when some boys were ridiculing him, telling him he wasn't such a good hitter.

"He bet them a dollar he could hit a ball on the hill behind the field. He hit one nine miles and won his dollar. The other time was when some kids came down and wrecked the baseball field we had made on Sublette Avenue. That was his pride and joy, and he was so mad that if he had caught those kids in the act, he would have torn them apart."

The field was on an old clay mine right near where there is now a street called Berra's Court. With two old wrecked cars for dugouts, the Stags A.C., Berra's team, had the neatest baseball diamond in town. The Stags were Berra's first team. He was 11 years old.


Excerpted from "The Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Phil Pepe.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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