We are used to it now after almost 70 years, but how unusual it must have been at the time for Lawrence Peter Berra, growing up in The Hill, an Italian neighborhood in St Louis during the 1930s, to be called Yogi. He got the name from his childhood friend Bobby Hofman who had seen a movie about an Indian snake charmer and thought his buddy resembled "the yogi".
Today, Yogi is 87 and often best remembered for looking rather funny, his Aflac commercials and his various Yogiisms ("it ain't over till it's over", "when you come to a fork in the road, take it" etc), some of which he said and some of which he didn't, including "I really didn't say everything I said" which apparently he did say. Most of what he did say sounds odd at first but usually makes sense when you think about it. As Nolan Ryan said "if Yogi had gone to college, they would have made him talk clearer, but not better".
What sometimes gets lost amidst all the funny stories is that Yogi Berra was one of the three best catchers in major league history (I'll leave it to you to argue among yourselves about where within those three he ranks). Bill James wrote that it was not a coincidence the Yankees achieved their greatest success, five consecutive world championships, when Yogi was in his prime.
Birdie Tebbetts, then the manager of the Cleveland Indians, told of asking Casey Stengel in the early 1960s (Casey was the Mets' manager by then) how he achieved his incredible success with the Yankees. Tebbetts wrote that Casey responded:
I had the privilege of meeting Yogi a couple of years ago and while he's slowed down he is still funny and a class act. You'll also enjoy visiting the Yogi Berra
'Birdie, I never play a game without my man in the lineup' . . .I'm thinking he's talking about DiMaggio, he's talking about Mantle, he's talking about this guy and that guy, and suddenly I realize he's talking about Yogi Berra.
Museum & Learning Center on the grounds of Montclair State University in New Jersey. Yogi and his wife, Carmen, have lived in the neighborhood since the late 1940s.
And this link takes you to a post from May 18 of this year when Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, visited Yogi on his 90th birthday.