A vigorous biography of the New York Yankees legend.
Lorenzo Pietro Berra (1925-2015), first nicknamed “Lawdie,” wasn’t supposed to be a baseball star. His father, an Italian immigrant to St. Louis, discouraged his ambitions, saying that it wasn’t seemly for a man to make a living playing a boy’s game. Branch Rickey shook his head at the young man’s prospects. He was goofy looking and odd, speaking a “mangled English [that was] the product of his Italian-language household and his uneasy relationship with school.” Yet, as Pessah, a founding editor of ESPN the Magazine, writes, Lawdie shook them off. Soon given the new nickname of “Yogi” for his habit of sitting cross-legged while waiting to bat or take the field, he started racking up admirable statistics—and a solid sense of how the business of baseball worked, which served him well. He was especially well served by a mistrust of management early on, for Yogi would fare ill at the hands of executives like George Steinbrenner in his later career as a coach and manager. The narrative often takes a play-by-play flavor (“Bodie doesn’t disappoint. He brings in Yankee Phil Rizzuto to play shortstop and Red Sox star Dom DiMaggio—Joe D’s younger brother—to man center field”) that suits the story just fine. Yogi emerges as a man who was more thoughtful than many give him credit for, even if he may have often played the rube—when told he was at an impasse in negotiating a contract, he replied, “What the hell is an impasse?” Of course, as any baseball fan knows, he was no slouch on the field, known far and wide for hammering pitches into the parking lot and giving teammate Mickey Mantle a run for his money as a slugger.
A welcome life of the Yankees icon and worthwhile reading for any baseball buff.