Friday, July 2, 2021

Andy Young: This road trip wasn’t over till it was over

Part of Andy Young's summer road trip vacation
took him to Little Falls, New Jersey, the site of
the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.
By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Last week a friend and I completed a nine-day cross-country drive that began in Prescott Valley, Arizona and zig-zagged across 14 states before finally ending in New England. Among the many highlights:  my first-ever look at the Grand Canyon, a Juneteenth celebration in Kansas City, Missouri, and a trip to a major league baseball game, my first in nearly 20 years.

While we were on the road, the United States Postal Service unveiled a brand-new postage stamp, one honoring a universally beloved sports hero who died in 2015. By utter coincidence we were passing through Little Falls, New Jersey, site of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, the day after the new stamp, one that featured the museum’s namesake, was introduced.

Few would dispute that Lawrence Peter Berra was one of the best catchers to ever play major league baseball. An eighth-grade dropout (he needed to earn money to help support his family) and survivor of the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach, Berra went on to play for more world championship teams (10) than any player in baseball history. 

He was also a 15-time All-Star and a three-time American League Most Valuable Player. After his playing career was over, he became one of only seven managers to pilot a team from both the American and National Leagues into the World Series. 

His athletic success was even more noteworthy given his appearance; listed generously at 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, the swarthy, stocky Berra was arguably the most unlikely-looking successful athlete in American team sports history.

And yet despite being one of the national pastime’s legitimate immortals, Yogi Berra is almost certainly better remembered for the things he said, or more accurately, what others (most notably his boyhood friend Joe Garagiola, who is remembered more for his post-playing career as a raconteur than for his nine unremarkable seasons as a major league catcher) claimed he said, than he is for his remarkable success in what was, when he played, indisputably America’s most popular sport. 

Much of Yogi’s wit and wisdom transcended baseball. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” was one such example. Another gem, allegedly uttered when he was attempting to dissuade a friend from going to a certain restaurant: “No one goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

Few would deny Berra’s genius for the national pastime, given his unparalleled success in the sport. That’s why it would be foolish to dismiss his baseball-related observations, even if they sounded a little unusual. “Baseball is ninety percent mental, and the other half is physical,” he once noted. “You can observe a lot by watching,” is another of his oft-quoted statements that was made in regard to baseball but could certainly apply to life away from the ballpark as well. 

As Yogi grew older his comments covered a wider variety of subjects. He often dispensed helpful advice, such as, “Never answer an anonymous letter,” or “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours,” and “Why buy good luggage; you only use it when you travel.”

The Berra Museum was founded in 1998, 17 years before Yogi’s death at age 90. “I’m lucky,” he observed at the time. “Usually you’re dead to get your own museum, but I’m still alive to see mine.”

Yogi Berra undoubtedly enjoyed the larger-than-life bronze likeness of him in front of that museum. It’s ironically fitting that an odd-looking, squat man who, at the start of his career, was described by some insensitive writers (and teammates) as “ape-like” ended up being immortalized with a sculpture that is quite statuesque."

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