Yogi Berra, who won 10 World Series titles, is one of the greatest and most respected winners in baseball history. The St. Louis native, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, was also one of the game’s great personalities.
But underneath that soft exterior was a man with great self-respect – to the point where Berra was largely uninvolved with the Yankees organization for more than a decade due to friction with George Steinbrenner.
“Well, I think the single biggest reason for that was that Steinbrenner hired Yogi to manage, as he hired many people to manage over the years – Billy Martin multiple times, plus various other people – and told Yogi he would have the team for the whole season,” FOXSports.com senior editor and baseball historian Rob Neyer said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “And he got off to a bad start and the Yankees were not playing well, and Steinbrenner fired him, as he fired many. But Yogi was one of the few people who just wouldn’t take it. A lot of people would take Steinbrenner’s abuse over and over again because they wanted to be Yankees and they wanted to be associated with the Yankees – and you can understand why. I think Yogi just felt like he had something else at stake. He had his pride. He had his dignity. He had other things that he could do. He could work for other teams. He could be with his family, he could be out making commercials for car dealerships, whatever it was. He didn’t need the Yankees as much as, I think it turned out, they needed him.”
Indeed, Berra was the rare who essentially told the Yankees to take a hike because he didn’t like how he was treated.
“Everybody else has come back to the fold because I think it’s a very human thing to want to be part of something like the New York Yankees,” Neyer said. “Most people would just take Steinbrenner’s abuse and then he would get over it and they would get over it. Yogi didn’t. He wanted more than that and he wound up getting it, and I think his reputation has benefitted from his what do you want to call it? Stubbornness? Stubborn pride? Dignity? Something else? I thin that just goes on the long list of reasons to admire him.”
Yes, many people see Berra almost as a cartoon character – and in some ways, he was. But he had too much self-respect to put up with Steinbrenner’s nonsense, which is the exact opposite of what you would think based on Berra’s public persona.
“That’s right. That’s a great observation,” Neyer said. “Yogi could be a clown of sorts, and I mean that in a positive way publicly and make the commercials and repeat the witticisms, most of which he didn’t actually invent but he certainly popularized. But there was something else beneath that. There was a dignity. In fact, I don’t know that the joking would have worked nearly so well if he wasn’t very aware of what he was doing, of what his role was. He was playing to the crowd, of course, but he knew he was playing to the crowd – and I think that makes it okay.”