As some of you know, I’ve been writing a book for the past year…make that almost two. Yes, I may have underestimated how long this takes.
I interviewed 50 ball players and personalities, many of them Hall of Famers. There are three I’m the most proud of. Sitting with George Brett in the President’s box in Kauffman Stadium ranks up there. Interviewing my childhood idol, Dave Winfield also makes that top list, as does my interview with Cito Gaston. Ok, maybe I have more than three favourites. But this interview I hadn’t mentioned to many people. This one was very special, and I was planning on keeping as a surprise. Well, perhaps now is an appropriate time to say that it was Yogi Berra, and let us all take this time to say goodbye to a baseball legend.
Yogi was a man who beat the odds. What do I mean? Just like Pete Rose was told, Yogi was probably too small for baseball, at 5’7″ and 185 lbs. The Yankee catcher would go on to hit 358 HR’s over his 19-year tenure, being selected to the All-Star team 18 times! He was also a 13-time World Series Champ, and won the MVP 3 times. Not bad for 5’7″, eh?
I was talking to a seasoned veteran baseball writer back when my book was just an idea, and mentioned I wanted to interview Berra.
“You need to be more realistic”, he said. “Yogi doesn’t do interviews anymore”.
Well that was true, as I discovered. But I persisted, and Yogi agreed to an interview via his son Dale, who asked Yogi my questions for me. I asked Yogi to tell me the funniest conversation he had on a baseball field. This was his response:
In St Louis, playing against the Browns, the temperature was in the high 90’s and Casey made me catch both games of a double header. I started arguing every call the umpire made in an effort to get thrown out…the umpire said to me, “Yogi, you can curse me and call me every name in the book, but if I’m staying out here, you’re staying, so shut up!”
Shortly after my interview with Yogi had been completed, Yogi’s wife Carmen passed away. 18 months later, the great Yankee slugger has joined her.
Yogi was perhaps most famous for his hilarious stories and sayings. “It ain’t over ’till it’s over”, is perhaps one of the best known.
Well, it ain’t over Yogi.
Your legend will live on forever.
On April 15th every year we celebrate Jackie Robinson day. Jackie was a pioneer of the civil rights movement, as a result of breaking major league baseball’s colour barrier in 1947. To say that Jackie was an incredible baseball player, is just listing one of his many significant accomplishments, as his brave actions paved the way for other civil rights activists, where Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. followed suit years later. Worthy to note is that Jackie was really just one of many talented ball players who made sacrifices far greater than most of us have experienced, and endured racism and hatred far worse than what most of us can even fathom. Several weeks ago I did an interview with the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Bob Kendrick, which you can listen to here. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Bob recently and he took me on a tour through the museum:
John “Buck” O’Neil, was the first black coach in the Major Leagues, and discovered the eventual Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock, signing him to his first big-league contract. In a press conference for the Negro Leagues Baseball “Hall Of Game” Ceremony on April 12th, 2014, Lou said jokingly that, “Buck thought he was my father”. Truth be told, Buck was a father figure to many, especially Brock, as well as another Hall of Fame player, Ernie Banks. He was also instrumental in signing Toronto Blue Jays World Series hero, Joe Carter.
If it weren’t for Jackie making the sacrifices he did, when he did, who knows how different the history books might have been. It’s possible we could be much further behind in both baseball and human civil rights.
Some of the greatest ball players to have ever played the game had reached the end of their careers before major league baseball started signing black and Hispanic players. Bob Kendrick stated that Buck always used to say, “the Negro Leagues Museum represents the men who built the bridge over the chasm of prejudice in our country”. Indeed then, it was Jackie Robinson, and many others following him who would be the ones to cross over that bridge.