‘He was that kind of guy’

Yogi Berra’s son shares another side of the famous ball player

Created date

April 29th, 2019
Dale Berra with his father Yogi on the bench at Wrigley Field in 1970.

Dale Berra with his father Yogi on the bench at Wrigley Field in 1970.

The name Yogi Berra is synonymous with baseball. The loveable guy, built rock-solid and known for crouching behind home plate wearing his catcher’s gear, was a shoo-in for the game’s Hall of Fame, which he entered in 1972.

But there’s a side to Yogi that most people don’t know, until now, that is. The great ball player was also a true family man: a devoted husband and a caring father.

His son, former Major Leaguer Dale Berra, paints a beautiful portrait of his father’s life both at home and at Yankee Stadium in his new book My Dad, Yogi: A Memoir of Family and Baseball (Hachette, 2019).

“There was no one like my dad,” recalls Berra, who lost his father in 2015 at age 90. “He would do anything for you, and when he was a manager, he was always there for his players.”

A fan favorite, Yogi played 19 seasons in the Big League—an astonishing career that spanned 18 years and included ten World Series championships, more than any other player in the game’s history.

Of course, he wasn’t born “Yogi,” and the name’s origin, as Dale points out, is highly disputed. One theory is, when a fellow baseball player saw him sitting on the bench staring off into space, he remarked, “You look like a yogi.”

In fact, the legendary Yankees catcher was born Lorenzo Pietro Berra in 1925 in St. Louis, Mo.

The son of Italian immigrants, Larry, as his friends called him, was the typical boy, running around his neighborhood Dago Hill, playing soccer and baseball. Berra learned the game of baseball primarily through his experience playing on American Legion teams.

Strong values

A first-generation American, he came up from nothing and never lost the strong character that such a background builds.

“Dad grew up with very little, and so he worked hard for and appreciated what he had,” says Dale. “His attitude was, if you have something, you take care of it; you show that you appreciate it.

“If I left my baseball glove outside, for example, he would say ‘Well, you must not want it because you’re not taking care of it.’ That was his generation.”

Yogi was part of the Greatest Generation—that group of men and women who weren’t too big, weren’t too rich, and weren’t too important for anything, especially serving their country. In 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a gunner’s mate on the attack transport USS Bayfield, for which he received a number of commendations for bravery.

After the war, Yogi went back to baseball and played his first game with the New York Yankees in September 1946. What followed was a career that, in many ways, was unlike any other player’s.

He participated in 18 All-Star games, and was, himself, an All-Star for 15 seasons. What’s more, he was an All-Star father.

“You could talk to my dad about anything,” Dale recalls. “It was how he managed teams too.”

To be sure, Yogi was a player’s manager and a son’s father. He valued hard work and always gave credit where it was due.

When he made decisions, it was for the team’s and the family’s good. That was Yogi Berra, and that’s who comes shining thorough in Dale’s memoir.

Loving relationship

This book is a strikingly honest portrait of a unique father-son relationship, told with a fondness that only a family member is capable of portraying. This is an inside look at the life of one of the greatest baseball players ever, told from the perspective of his son, who was also an accomplished athlete, following in his father’s footsteps.

Dale, himself, became a key member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing shortstop for several seasons, until he was traded to the New York Yankees, where he played for, of all people, his father.

But if you’re looking for a memoir filled with salacious dirt, you won’t find it here. Actually, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to say a bad word about Yogi.

To quote Dale, “He was that kind of guy.”

Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, this book is a touching story, plain and simple. Indeed, it’s the sort of book we’d all like to write about our fathers.

A few ‘Yogi-isms’

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

You can observe a lot by just watching.

Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.

A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.

It’s like déjà vu all over again.