There are so many things that will never be forgotten about Yogi Berra. The image of him jumping into Don Larsen’s arms after the perfect game in the ’56 World Series. Or when Jackie Robinson stole home in the ’55 World Series, and Yogi made the tag and jumped up at the umpire when he called Jackie safe. Or his 18 All-Star appearances and 10 World Series championships.
But let’s face it. He’s best known for his Yogi-isms.
I got my favorite Yogi-ism on July 16, 1980. You may have seen it making the rounds on Twitter recently.
I had just hit my 314th career home run the day before, passing Yogi as the all-time home run leader among catchers. Yogi, being the class act that he was, sent me a telegram to congratulate me.
“I always thought the record would stand until it was broken.”
He was baseball’s most lovable character. You could say any name in baseball — Mays, Hank, whoever — and most people would know them. But you could say Yogi’s name, and everybody knew who he was. He was loved by all.
Probably because he did things like send a telegram to the guy who just broke his record.
But I guess what I’ll miss most about Yogi are the simplest things. It wasn’t always his Yogi-isms. He talked a lot about family — yours and his. And that was how he was. Most of the time, he just wanted to talk. Whenever we were at the Hall of Fame or any other event, he was the guy I really looked forward to seeing more than anybody else. We had a lot of fun together.
I remember back in 1999 when we were in Atlanta for the All-Century Team celebration. We were sitting up in the players’ suite, and he said, “Hey, John, when are you going to the airport?”
He was baseball’s lovable character … He was loved by all.
“Tomorrow morning,” I said.
“Meet me here,” he said. “I want to go with you.”
So I met him back at the players’ suite the next morning and we went down and caught a car to the airport. We talked the entire ride about pretty much anything you could think of — family, baseball, you name it. We just talked. And when we got to the airport, I got out of the car, grabbed my bag and said, “Okay, Yog, I’ll see you.”
“No, John,” he said. “You gotta go with me.”
So instead of going to my gate, I went with him all the way to his gate and I sat with him until his plane was called and he boarded. He kept me with him until the last possible moment, just to be with me and talk a little longer.
Like I said, that was Yogi. He always wanted to be around you, and you always wanted to be around him. He was one of those people in this world who you just genuinely enjoyed being in the company of.
Sometimes I’d call him and go visit him and his museum in North Jersey, and we’d just sit and talk out on the porch in the rocking chairs together. But as much as he loved to talk, some of the best moments were when we wouldn’t say anything at all. We’d just sit there, rock back and forth and enjoy each other’s company.
Those are the moments with Yogi that I’ll really miss the most.
Thanks for everything, Yogi. You will be dearly missed.
Johnny Bench played 17 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Cincinnati Reds, earning 14 All-Star appearances and two World Series titles. He’s a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the MLB All-Time Team and is also a spokesperson for Stryker Orthopedics.