A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with Hall of Famer and former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra appears in the July 9 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
DP: I know you're a fan of big-band music. Name Glenn Miller's theme song.
|Catcher to catcher: Yogi Berra shakes hands with Mike Piazza after throwing out the first pitch for a Yankees-Mets interleague game in '98.|
YB: "Moonlight Serenade."
DP: Do you know Artie Shaw?
DP: What about Artie Shaw. Do you know Artie Shaw?
YB: I know Artie Shaw, sure. Cab Callaway I knew. Count Basie, Duke Ellington.
DP: Did you meet those guys?
YB: Yes. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, they were great Yankee fans. The four Mills Brothers. All of them. They always came out to all the games.
DP: Of the musicians you just mentioned, who was the biggest baseball fan? Who understood the game better than anybody?
YB: All of them did, the Mills Brothers especially ... Ella Fitzgerald, she was a great Mets fan -- she loved baseball. ... We used to have a dance hall in St. Louis called Tunetown. All them bands used to come in...
DP: What kind of dancer are you?
YB: I like very slow.
DP: The slower the better?
YB: I love to hear the music, that's what I like. I used to go just to listen to the music, no kidding.
DP: How's your golf game?
YB: I'll find out today.
DP: Is it a day-by-day process?
YB: Yes -- well, the kids got me running around with the books, you know. The book's going very well. I just came back from Washington. There's a signing over there. I signed about 500 of them over there. It's been going along good.
DP: Did you play golf when you were playing baseball?
YB: No, no. I didn't know the first thing when I first started. I didn't start playing till ... I came up to the big leagues. I played with Joe Medwick, then Stan Musial in St. Louis.
DP: And they taught you the game?
YB: Yes, Joe Medwick was a good golfer and they're the ones who taught me, and Joe was my idol when I was a kid.
DP: When you hear people say Barry Bonds is the best left fielder of all time -- now you're including Stan Musial and Ted Williams in that equation -- what do you think?
YB: Well, probably in the fielding part, maybe ... I don't know if Stan's arm was up to Barry Bonds, you know ... for hitting, not bad. They hit for par too. They hit a lot of home runs too.
DP: Plus Ted took five years to be in the service.
YB: Yes, that hurt him.
DP: Does anybody today remind you of Joe Medwick?
YB: Joe Medwick? Today. They say that kid in Montreal is pretty good. What's his name?
DP: Vladimir Guerrero?
YB: Yes. Pretty good player. Good arm, could throw and run. Does everything well.
DP: Was Medwick your favorite player?
YB: Yes, when I was a kid, yes. He was my favorite. I guess maybe I learned how to hit off of him, swinging at anything.
DP: Do you think enough hitters are like that nowadays? They almost seem to be too selective now.
YB: They are a little selective, I think, a little bit. ... You know, like the ball inside. Boy, they just don't know how to get out of the way of the ball. I'm not kidding you. I've seen a few guys hit. They don't even move. It's amazing. They seem like they all dive into the ball now today, Dan. ... I know if I was catching that's where I'd throw the ball -- if you get hit, too bad, but that's where that ball is going. I don't care. Not unless you changed and show me something different.
DP: So you would set up on the inside?
YB: Heck, yeah. I'll pump them in there all day if they keep striding the same way.
DP: The hitters seem to be a little too sensitive nowadays.
YB: Well, I know it. That's the trouble.
DP: You don't sound like you have any sympathy for them.
YB: No, I don't. If they can get out of the way, my God, one kid got hit -- last night, I was at the Yankee game, a left-handed hitter against a left-hander -- he didn't move.
DP: Did you ever meet Jackie Gleason?
YB: Oh, sure. I played golf with him and everything.
DP: How was he?
YB: I played in his golf tournament. You know, if you're talking about golf, when we went to spring training that's the only time Casey would let us play golf, you know? It was only spring training. When spring training was over, hang them up, boy. You're finished. No more golf.
DP: Was Mantle a golfer?
YB: Oh, a good one. He could play golf. We had some pretty good players. You had Johnny Lindell, Charlie Keller was good, Joe DiMaggio was good, Whitey is a pretty good player himself.
DP: What kind of manager would Ralph Kramden have made?
YB: I don't know -- that I don't know.
DP: Well, could you imagine him as a manager?
YB: I don't know.
DP: Or maybe Norton would have been better.
YB: Norton might have been good.
DP: Because I don't think Ralph Kramden would have had too much patience.
DP: Now you're old-fashioned, when you say you're old-school?
DP: OK, because you say trousers and dungarees and...
YB: Yes, that's what we used to say, dungarees, overalls.
DP: And then, you know, a woman's got good gams.
YB: Good gams, yes. You know, like these kids get bald heads now, you know, they shave their hair?
YB: We did that when we were kids. I used to get a bald head every summer.
DP: Yes, you didn't want it, but you had it though, right?
YB: Yes, it was too hot in St. Louis -- you had to get cool.
DP: Did you want to play for the Cardinals?
YB: Yes, I wanted to play with them. I wanted to play with them or the St. Louis Browns when I was a kid. Yes, that's home, you know, it was home for me. They didn't want me, so I went to the Yankees. I was glad it happened.
DP: Their regret.
YB: No regrets at all. Seventeen years and 14 World Series, that's not too bad.
DP: Who has the best gams in show business?
YB: Oh, heck, Marilyn Monroe was good. Angie Dickinson wasn't too bad.
DP: Now when you met Marilyn, were you nervous?
YB: Oh, yes ... when Joe asked us to go out to dinner, boy -- me going with Marilyn Monroe.
DP: But did you find yourself staring at her?
YB: Well, you had to look at her -- she wasn't bad to look at.
DP: But when you went out, I would think you probably didn't listen to what she said as much -- I would just look at her.
YB: Oh, we had conversations. Heck, we showed her through the old St. Petersburg clubhouse over there. When everybody was gone we ran her through the locker room and everything.
DP: So Marilyn Monroe would have the best gams you've...
YB: Yes, not bad.
DP: You've come around. And Mickey's gams were pretty good, weren't they?
YB: Who, Mickey Mantle?
YB: Oh, they were, you know -- I could never tell how good he could have been.
DP: What did you think of "61*" -- did you enjoy the movie?
YB: I enjoyed it. I think it showed a lot of fans that Mickey and Roger weren't enemies. It was great. They were great. They pulled for each other and we all pulled for them. We didn't care who hit the home run. What the heck, we wanted to win the game. We pulled for both of them, and we had in fact déjà vu all over again. You know, when I got that, they hit back-to-back home runs.
DP: When you saw the actors portraying Mickey and Roger, did it take you back to that year? I mean, did you feel like you were looking at Mickey and Roger?
YB: Yes -- they looked great. I thought Billy Crystal did a heck of a job. He really did. And I give credit to Reggie Smith in making that kid bat left-handed.
YB: He did a good job.
DP: Now this may be a stretch for our readers, but what is the key to a long and successful marriage.
YB: Oh, I don't know. Well, maybe what helped me -- we used to make them long trips, you know, when we first started ... you go away for two weeks and come home for two weeks. I guess when you're getting really mad, you know, you went on a trip. "See you later, hon."
DP: So that saved your marriage. Those road trips.
YB: You get mad -- they might have gotten mad at you at that time and you're leaving, you know, it's good.
DP: Rumor has it Lindsay's your favorite grandchild. Do you care to comment?
YB: Oh, Lindsay -- I've got nine of them. They're all my favorites.
DP: You've got to be careful when you're naming favorites, right?
YB: Oh yes. You're not kidding. I've got my granddaughter, the other granddaughter, Gretchen, she just is working with the Yankees now. She's got to do that course like, you know, she goes to Penn State.
YB: And she's working at Yankee Stadium.
DP: Now there's a lot of stuff that's attributed to you. Which one's your favorite of all the things you've said.
YB: I think ... "It ain't over till it's over" [or] "When you come to the fork in the road, take it." They just come out, Dan, and I don't even know I say them. I really don't. I wish I could. You know, if you tell me what time it is, I'll say, "Now? Soon."
DP: But there has to be one that was made up, that you say I didn't say that but you get credit for.
YB: Oh, yes, I think a lot of the guys use my name, you know, when they go to banquets.
DP: And they say Yogi said this...
YB: Yes, Yogi said that.
DP: But is there one that you say, they say that all the time but I never said that?
YB: I could say it. I don't know what they say ... but I was just in Washington signing books just yesterday and they say a lot of the congressmen use my speech, "when it comes to the fork in the road." They quote me all the time over there. [Berra's new book is called, "When You Come to the Fork in the Road, Take It!"]
DP: You make good meatballs?
YB: Yes. I'm only on holidays.
DP: So you can be rented out for holidays?
YB: No, at home I'm rented out.
DP: Oh, you are. Now what's the recipe or the secret to making...
YB: Oh, I won't tell.
DP: You can't tell me?
DP: To making good meatballs?
YB: Well, you get the ground meat, put eggs in it, and I like onions in them.
DP: And that's the key?
DP: All right.
YB: And my wife makes the sauce, though. She makes the sauce.
DP: Is there an actress who measures up to Greer Garson today?
YB: Oh, I think there's quite a few of them. Greer Garson was a great fan of mine. I know that. I used to get Christmas cards from her every year. Yes, she was a great lady.
DP: Did she have a crush on you?
YB: No, I won't say that. She lived in Texas then, you know.
DP: Yes, but DiMaggio gets Marilyn Monroe. You didn't get any of these actresses?
YB: Well, I was married already.
DP: Oh, OK ... but if you weren't, then who knows?
YB: Well, I don't know.
DP: You could have ended up with some actress.
DP: But give me somebody who is Greer Garson today so our readers would say, OK, I understand now.
YB: I guess the girl who played, oh, heck -- I forget the name of the movie, darn it.
DP: Julia Roberts?
YB: Yes, Julia Roberts.
DP: So Julia Roberts is Greer Garson.
YB: She's not bad. Like Debbie Reynolds, I knew her. Angie Dickinson I knew. Acted with her a little bit. I met Gregory Peck, Spencer Tracy.
DP: Clark Gable?
YB: No, I never met him.
DP: If you didn't play for the Yankees, you probably wouldn't have met these people.
YB: Probably not. Not unless, when you went up to L.A. you saw a lot of movie actors, you know, a lot of actors in there. You know, I was on the show "General Hospital."
DP: Wait a minute. What year were you on "General Hospital"?
YB: '62 ... I was a doctor.
DP: You were a doctor?
YB: Yep, I carried a doctor's bag. At that time, you know, it's not as sexy as it was now -- sexier now than it was when we went on it.
DP: Yes, I would imagine. But I got to be honest, Yogi -- if you're a doctor I may have to change my physician.
YB: You better.
DP: Favorite "Seinfeld" character.
YB: Oh, that -- what's his name, the tall guy.
DP: Favorite episode of Seinfeld?
YB: All of them were good.
DP: No, you've got to pick out one.
YB: Oh, I can't.
DP: Do you like the ones that make fun of Steinbrenner?
YB: Sometimes, yes. Sometimes. That's before I made up with George.
DP: Yes. Now you don't laugh as hard when you watch those.
YB: No, no, no. George has been very good to me Dan. He has. He's been real great.
DP: Should success as a player be measured in championships?
YB: Oh, it helps a little bit, I think so. You know, I was very fortunate, playing 17 years with the Yankees and being in 14 World Series. I was born at the right time, I guess that was it. I was real happy about that.
DP: Yes, but I think we look at guys today and say, well, you know, they're great, but they haven't won a world championship.
YB: Yes, look at ... Ernie Banks, he never got in a World Series. It's something, you know, to play in a World Series, I'll tell you that.
DP: Were you a different player in the World Series?
YB: No, I wouldn't say that. It's like when you start the season ... it's brand new and you're a little nervous and you wish everybody luck and all that, you know -- and then it's another game.
DP: But it brought out the best in you because, what do you have, most hits in the World Series?
YB: Yes ... maybe I was just lucky. I don't know.
DP: Did you benefit from Mickey Mantle being in the lineup, that maybe when they came to you ... they eased up just a little bit? It that possible?
YB: Oh, I don't know about that. Casey used to change it. He used to flip-flop. Sometimes he put me fourth and Mickey third, because sometimes they'd walk me and pitch to Mickey.
DP: Oh, OK.
YB: And especially when we got Roger in '61, Casey had myself, Mickey and Roger, then he had Elston Howard, too, and he had Moose Skowron in there. We had some pretty good hitters.
DP: Your favorite Mickey Mantle story.
YB: When he called the game in Boston. One day in Boston he wanted to call the game. I said OK, go ahead, call it. ... Standing up it was a fastball, when he bent down it was a curveball and when he wiggled his belt it was a changeup. ... This is a true story, Dan. ... And we went up to the seventh inning -- he called the game for seven innings ... we were ahead 2-0 and then he waved to me [and] he says, "You're on your own now."
DP: Was he in the dugout?
YB: No, out in center field.
DP: So you would just look at him?
YB: I got the signs from him.
DP: Who was pitching?
YB: Whitey Ford.
DP: So Whitey didn't care?
DP: Or did he know.
YB: He knew about it.
DP: Did Casey know?
DP: He wouldn't have been pleased.
DP: Do you still think Jackie Robinson was...
YB: He was out.
DP: Well, you have to see that on Classic.
YB: I see it many times and Tim Russert showed it enough times.
DP: That's as angry or as upset as I think you've ever gotten, wasn't it?
YB: Yes. I knew he was out. I know he was out.
DP: Did you ever joke with Jackie about that?
YB: Yes, sometimes. "Oh, it was pretty close," he'd say.
DP: He would never admit he was out.
YB: No, he wouldn't admit it.
DP: Did you...
YB: Carl Erskine said he was out.
DP: When Jackie first crossed the color barrier, did you understand the magnitude of it?
YB: I played with him in the minor leagues, you know. ... I played for New York and he played for Montreal and we played against each other in the minors. We came up at the same time. He was a good player then. Very good.
DP: Did you get a sense of what was in store for him when he got to the majors?
YB: Well, I didn't know how people were going to take it, you know, I really didn't know. ... Larry Doby told me he had it very hard, because he was the first one in the American League, and he came right out of the sticks then, playing for a colored league there. He didn't have any minor-league experience at all.
DP: So you think he had it harder than Jackie did.
YB: Yes, but I think Jackie got a taste of it, you know.
DP: At least you got a chance to see him so you knew how much talent he had.
DP: And you know what was strange -- they say that was his fourth-best sport ... I heard he was a good football and basketball player, a track star and everything.
YB: That's the same with Mantle. He could have been a good football player. If Mickey had two good legs, there's no telling how good he could have been.
DP: Was it the sprinkler? When he tripped on it?
YB: Yes, that's when it started, right there.
DP: Did you know as soon as that happened that this was serious?
YB: Well, no, I didn't, no. ... I know he wrapped both legs up, I know that.
DP: And this was in the World Series, wasn't it?
YB: Yes, in 1951.
DP: And he still carved out a pretty good career.
YB: Not bad. Mantle could run faster on bad legs than I could on a good day.
DP: If Mantle played today, with the way these balls and ballparks are, what are we talking about home run-wise for Mickey?
YB: He could hit pretty good. I think the balls are lighter today, Dan. I really do.
DP: What do you think he would hit, 700 home runs?
YB: Yes, I think he'd come close to it, I'll tell you that.
DP: What would those guys have hit -- if they hit 61 and 54 in '61, how many home runs do you think they'd hit today in one season?
YB: I don't know, that's hard to say, Dan. I wish I could tell you that, but I don't know. You've got to get up and see what they're throwing. I know they don't throw many curveballs today. I know that. And in our day, a lot of guys threw the curveball -- that was the equalizer, if you could hit the curve.
YB: It made a lot of guys hang their bats up.
DP: Did Yankee Stadium hurt Mickey's numbers? He said that it did.
YB: Well, right-handed, sure.
DP: But left-handed he was...
YB: Left-handed was all right, yes.
DP: So then it probably evened out for him.
DP: When you went out with Mantle and DiMaggio, would you dress differently? Would the evening be that much different?
YB: You know, our code -- we had to wear a shirt and tie. We had to.
DP: Right. But would the evening be different if you went out with Mantle as opposed to DiMaggio?
YB: Probably a little bit different. But Joe used to go out to dinner with us. We used to play cards together on the train. He was a loner -- that's the way he was. He liked to be alone. He wasn't much of a hanger-around, but he talked to you and if you'd say hello to him he'd say hello to you. A lot of people think he snubbed them, but he didn't -- he was a great guy. My wife really loved him. She got along with him real good.
DP: So the evening may have started out the same with Mantle and DiMaggio.
YB: Well, I used to leave Mickey and Whitey and Billy Martin at 11:30 at night. I said, "I'm going home, boys. I got to catch tomorrow. You guys play the field."
DP: So you would wait and get into the locker room and then they would tell you what happened.
DP: So thank goodness you were married, right?
YB: Yes. Well, I was catching every day, too, and that takes a little toll out of you.
DP: What catcher do you see nowadays that you say is one of the greats of all time?
YB: I like that Ivan Rodriguez down in Texas. He's my size, you know.
DP: What do you think of Mike Piazza?
YB: Piazza? If he'd work on his catching a little bit he'd be great. He's a good hitter. What the heck, you can't take that away from him.
DP: Is Johhny Bench the greatest catcher of all time?
YB: I don't know.
DP: Are you the greatest catcher of all time?
YB: I don't that either. I was just happy if I got there, that's all ... and I owe it all to Dickey. Bill Dickey did it all for me.
DP: So is Bill Dickey the greatest catcher of all time?
YB: Well, to me he was.
DP: All right. I know we get into this argument about the greatest catcher all the time. Now, I grew up in Cincinnati, so Johnny Bench to us was...
DP: He was a power hitter and he had a great arm.
YB: You know, I liked Johnny Bench when I first saw him in the -- you know, we used to have them rookie schools, in November.
YB: In Florida. I saw Bench and I said he's going to be one hell of a player.
DP: You were right.
YB: But another one I thought was going to be a heck of a catcher, my son Dale went to that rookie school and he saw Dale Murphy catching and he said, "Dad, watch this guy catching." He threw the ball good from catching in the rookie league and then I don't know what happened.
DP: Yes, because he would throw it pretty well, but it would end up in center field.
YB: Yes, but he had a good arm down at that rookie school, I tell you that.
DP: Well he turned out to be a Gold Glove winner in center field.
DP: Did you pick No. 8 because of Bill Dickey?
YB: No, I didn't pick it on that ... what you got, that's what you got.
DP: So when you got 8, did you care?
YB: No, I didn't care. You don't hit with your number. I didn't care what number I had.
DP: Who's going to win it all this year?
YB: I'll tell you, it's going to be close. Outside of Seattle, I think all the rest of the teams are going to bunch up.
DP: When you look at Ichiro ... given what happened in World War II, are you amazed that we've gone this far that we now embrace the Japanese? If I told you that 50 years ago...
YB: Well, I was in Japan in the '50s. They were all small then. You know, they didn't have much power. ... They had a left-handed pitcher over there -- he had a chance. ... We tried to get him to come back here and he didn't want to come back or they wouldn't let him come back here then. And he could throw. He was a left-hander and he had a good arm.
DP: How do you think Saduharo Oh would have done here?
YB: Oh, I think he could have done all right. I really do. He proved it.
DP: What do you remember about D-Day?
YB: It was like the Fourth of July ... I was a kid then. I was only 19 years old when I went over there. And I really did, I thought it was like the Fourth of July. ... I was looking at all the shells, you know, the tracers and everything. It looked beautiful. And my officer would say, "You'd better get your head down or you won't have it anymore" -- so he made me come down.
DP: Were you afraid?
YB: No, I wasn't afraid. I'm not kidding you. Probably later on, yes, I was a little afraid. You realize what you were getting into.
DP: Where were you on D-Day?
YB: Omaha -- we were the first ones in. We went in before the Army on a rocket boat. I was on a rocket boat, six men and an officer.
DP: Do you remember if those guys survived?
YB: Yes, our guys did all right.
DP: When the bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor, what were you doing?
YB: I just finished playing soccer.
DP: And you remember that day?
DP: And what happened? Your parents told you that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor?
YB: No, we had already rented a car. We were riding in a car and we heard it on the news, coming home from a soccer game.
DP: Did you know you were going to end up in the military?
YB: No, I didn't till I got to be 18 years old and I got my draft card.
DP: See, I think these guys nowadays don't understand how good they've got it ... when you lose Bob Feller and Ted Williams...
YB: Some guys lost good years in there.
DP: Oh, yes.
YB: Bob Feller lost, how many? He lost about three or four years. Williams lost five, didn't he?
YB: No telling how good they could have been.
DP: Now Ted was a bomber pilot, wasn't he?
YB: Yes, him and Jerry Coleman.
DP: Did you ever discuss the war with Ted Williams?
YB: No, no.
DP: You didn't have that kind of relationship?
YB: I don't discuss it now, not unless somebody asks me or something like that.
DP: So it's painful.
YB: Well, it was, you know...
DP: So is this the final book of your life? [Berra's new book is called, "When You Come to the Fork in the Road, Take It!"]
YB: Well, I hope so.
DP: You're getting worn out?
DP: It's one of those things, you start telling stories and finally you say, God, I hate myself -- I don't want to talk about myself anymore.
YB: Well, no, this is a good book. This is a good one. Tells how I started and everything, you know, a little bit about family life and my dad and my brothers and all that.
DP: You never did a tell-all and you never had, you know, these books that were written about some of the other guys, but they didn't write anything about you. Are you proud about that?
YB: I don't know.
DP: I mean because there was no dirt on you. We don't have Yogi stories except for some of the goofy things you may say.
YB: Yes, that's the only thing.