The Yogi I Knew

Sep 29 2015
Sep 29 2015

O ne of my earlier years with the Yankees, I was in a hitting slump and none of my teammates were talking about it. Yogi came by my locker one day and sat down, but he didn’t say anything for a while. He just sat there with a serious look on his face.

“I’ve got your solution,” he said finally.

By this time, a few of my teammates were leaning over to listen in.

“Try swinging at strikes.”

File-This March 7, 2008, file photo shows New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, left, and Yogi Berra clowning around by the batting cage before the Yankees spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros at Legends Field in Tampa. Berra, the Yankees Hall of Fame catcher, has died. He was 90. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

He opened up a huge grin and the room lit up.

That was Yogi. He knew baseball as well as anyone and he watched all of our games, but he didn’t like to overanalyze things. He loved simplicity. I think that’s why he often spoke in short sentences that were full of meaning. With Yogi, less was truly more.

When I think of Yogi Berra, I see him sitting next to me at my locker or in the training room. When he came to the stadium, we would catch up, usually in the sacred hour of down time before the first pitch. Everyone remembers how good he was at talking. What I remember about Yogi is how good he was at listening.

Baseball: Team USA Derek Jeter (2) with New York Yankees coach Yogi Berra before exhibition game vs New York Yankees. Tampa, FL 3/3/2009 CREDIT: Chuck Solomon (Photo by Chuck Solomon /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X81922 TK1 R4 F83 )

Yogi was a magician when it came to making people feel comfortable. He made everyone he interacted with feel at ease. Yogi always wanted to know how I was doing, whether I was playing well on the field or not. He was so easy to be around that you could actually forget you were talking to a baseball legend.

Yogi loved to tease me. We were always going back and forth with jabs. One time I pointed out that even though he won 10 championships, only five were valid because in those days there were no playoffs — the American and National League winners went directly to the World Series.

He was lying down on the training table with a heat pack on his lower back.

New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, left, balances the 2009 World Series trophy atop Yogi Berra's head as Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson watches during pregame ceremonies prior to the during Yankees home opener spring training baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, March 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

“If you’re having trouble with math,” Yogi responded without looking up, “you can come over to my house and count the rings yourself.”

Yogi understood something simple about the sport: baseball is meant to be fun. Any time he was around, he made it that way. You can’t get through a 162-game baseball schedule without keeping things light. On our championship teams, that was one of the keys. Yogi’s mission was to put a smile on people’s faces, and he succeeded.

New York Yankees special adviser Yogi Berra, left, watches shortstop Derek Jeter field a ball as the Yankees full squad worked out during baseball spring training at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It is with a heavy heart that I attend Yogi Berra’s memorial service today. But I hope it’s also a chance to celebrate his life. Yogi’s baseball numbers speak for themselves. He was a great Yankee, a great man and a great husband to Carmen, whom he praised every chance he got. To me, he was a great friend.

My locker may be gone now, but I can still see Yogi next to me, smiling and ready to light up the room with a response.