Yogi Berra passed away on Sept. 22, but his legacy will live on through memories he created. On Oct. 19, three longtime New York Times columnists – Dave Anderson, George Vecsey and Harvey Araton – came to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center to discuss the life and career of Berra.
Lindsay Berra, Yogi Berra’s granddaughter and MLB columnist, described one night she went to her grandfather’s house during the event: “He’s pointing at [the magazine] and he goes ‘This is a really good looking kid. You should date him,’ and I said, ‘Grandpa, I can’t date him because he dates a swimsuit model.’ Without missing a beat, he said, ‘You’ve got swimsuits’, and he was right. I do in fact have swimsuits.”
The genius of Berra extended beyond the baseball diamond. While most athletes drift into the distance after retirement, Berra had a museum and learning center dedicated to him and he remained active in the local community. While a lot of athletes are closed-off the the public, Berra was extremely approachable and had a knack for making whomever he talked to feel important.
“He was the most approachable guy,” Vecsey said. “There’s never been a less pretentious celebrity in the history of sports and maybe entertainment.”
Peter Elias, a friend of the Berra family, said, “I’ve been saying since he died, if humility is a virtue, then Yogi Berra is perhaps the most virtuous man who had ever lived. I think we are going to miss the goodness that was Yogi Berra, the constant that was Yogi Berra as a Yankee fan, as a baseball fan.”
The praise shared by Vecsey and Elias has been universal since Berra’s passing. Fans called into sports radio en masse to share their memories and admiration for Berra as a person. One fan said, “[Berra’s death] was like hearing about a family member who died, but you never really met.”
“The panel today was really about celebrating the life and times of Yogi Berra,” Araton said.
Araton’s first recollection as a journalist of Yogi was when he covered the Yankees during the tumultuous “Bronx Zoo” era in the late 1970s. “As a rookie reporter, I’m trying to figure out, is there anybody here I can talk to who won’t kill me if I ask the wrong question?” Araton said, “And that person happened to be Yogi.”
Berra, a coach at the time, added onto his prolific playing career when he helped the Yankees to two World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. “He had great baseball instincts,” Anderson said. “He knew how to play baseball and how his teammates should play baseball […] he was a baseball genius. It was as simple as that.”
Anderson, Vecsey and Araton were present to sign Yogi: 1925-2015, a new tribute book by The New York Times that was available for purchase. The book contains a collection of New York Times feature articles and photographs of Berra and was compiled and edited by Anderson.
Berra will live on – whether by book, museum or memory – because of the person he was. “It was Yogi,” Vecsey said. “He didn’t have to pretend to be someone else.”