Yogi Berra was an American icon. Since I am only 41 years old, I remember him as a coach and manager in my youth, and an amazing ambassador and elder statesman in my adult years. Yogi’s love of baseball, friendly demeanor, and proclivity for saying funny things made him loved by all.
Five key lessons resonated in my mind as I thought back on Yogi immediately after his passing.
1. Prove Them Wrong
Yogi dropped out of school after the eighth grade and was only 5’7’’. When his childhood best friend, Joe Garagiola, was signed by their hometown St. Louis Cardinals for a signing bonus of $500, Yogi wanted to the same amount. The Cardinals balked and Yogi later got that same amount from the Yankees.
He would go on to win three MVP Awards (1951, 1954, and 1955) and 10 World Series titles as a member of the Yankees, and was selected to the All Star Team 15 times. I’d say the Cardinals signed the wrong guy, but that’s just my opinion.
2. Team First
That Yogi won three MVP Awards on a team that featured Mickey Mantle is a feat unto itself. However, Yogi always put the team first. When Elston Howard joined the Yankees, Yogi took him under his wing as his back up and then ceded the primary catching duties to him later in his career. Howard went on to win an MVP Award of his own in 1963, Yogi’s last season as a full-time player.
3. Stand Up For Yourself and What’s Right
After Yogi was fired as the Yankee manager 16 games into the 1985 season, he vowed not to return to Yankee Stadium while George Steinbrenner was the team’s owner. It wasn’t just that he was fired; it was that it was done through an intermediary. While others tolerated Steinbrenner’s temper, Yogi wouldn’t allow himself to be treated in a way that lacked respect and dignity.
Fourteen years later, family and friends intervened and arranged a meeting between George Steinbrenner and Yogi. Yogi insisted his wife attend the meeting as well, and Steinbrenner apologized saying it was “the worst mistake I ever made in baseball”. Yogi’s willingness to forgive Steinbrenner allowed him to return to the Yankee family, celebrate Yogi Berra Day (on which David Cone threw his perfect game), and attend Old Timer’s Day and countless other Yankee events. During the last 16 years, Yogi was a regular at spring training and in the Yankee clubhouse as well, getting pleasure from being around the team and game he loved.
5. Be Yourself
Yogi said funny things and he didn’t always do so on purpose. But instead of hiding from it, he embraced it, and it helped solidify his legend. That he wrote books and participated in commercials certainly helped his bank account as well. He could have been self-conscious of his Yogisms, but instead he embraced who he truly was, and it served him well.
I doubt we will ever see another Yogi Berra. He served his country in World War II in the Navy and was a gunner’s mate on D-Day. He earned 10 World Series rings as a player and another three as a coach. To say he was a winner is an understatement. But more than that, he was a gentleman who was loved by many. He will be missed by many, not only because he was loved, but also because of the lessons he taught.