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All three sides of Yogi Berra, the great baseball player, the alleged buffoon and the solid citizen

  • Dec 30, 2008
Yogi Berra is a former baseball player that has always presented two distinct personalities. There was the baseball superstar that some argue with justification was the best catcher in the history of the game. Yogi was not only a solid offensive player, he was also superb on defense and his knowledge of the opposing hitters and ability to call a game made many mediocre pitchers good to great. For years, Yankee manager Casey Stengel regularly referred to Yogi as his assistant manager.
However, the other side of Yogi was that of the clown, a man who supposedly uttered ridiculous phrases that somehow made sense and that are repeated on a regular basis. Statements like, "It gets late early out there", "Deja vu all over again" and "It ain't over till it's over" are repeated by people talking about sports to politics. This personality was even captured in a cartoon character, Yogi Bear, whose catchphrase was "Smarter than the average bear."
There is also a third side of Yogi Berra, the solid citizen that avoided the wild nightlife of other Yankees such as Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. While Yogi himself may not have understood business, he was smart enough to seek out those who did and as a consequence, his business activity off the field was a success. He has been married to his wife Carmen for decades and there has never been a hint that he was ever anything but a faithful and loving husband and father.
All three sides of this man are presented in roughly equal portions in this biography of one of the greatest players and Yankees of all time. Barra does an excellent job in summarizing the amazing run of the Yankees while Yogi was a player without bombarding the reader with details and statistics. Entire books have been written about single seasons of those years, so the temptation to be more specific must have been great. Barra also praises Yogi for his contributions and pushes him a little higher on the baseball recognition ladder. When Yogi first joined the Yankees Joe Dimaggio was the penultimate Yankee and his place was immediately taken by successor Mickey Mantle with Roger Maris included for a few seasons.
Yet, through all the glory years where Casey Stengel was at the helm, Yogi was consistently the most valuable player on the Yankee team. There is also a somewhat bitter streak to this story based on the actions of Yankee management. The modern follower of sports generally has no idea how poorly paid baseball players were until the seventies when the reserve clause was finally overturned. In the fifties, Yankee management was ferocious in keeping salaries down, even to the point that it was detrimental to the team. There were some seasons when the money the players received from making the World Series was nearly equal to their salary for the entire season, even for some of the stars of the team. This is an aspect of the history of baseball that is often overlooked and it was pleasing to see Barra deal with it.
Despite the caricature that he was a bit of a buffoon, Yogi Berra was a class act all through his years in and out of baseball. The way he was treated while he was a manager, both by management and his players, was atrocious and Barra also deals with that fairly and honestly. This is one of the best and most honestly accurate biographies of a sports figure ever written.

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More Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee reviews
review by . March 14, 2009
posted in Just Baseball
Author Allen Barra loves Yogi Berra. That's obvious after reading just the first few pages of his new book, "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee." It's hard for anybody to not love Yogi in all honesty. He's been around for a long time and has managed to maintain a likeable profile without the assistance of image consultants or publicists. In other words, he's a genuinely decent person, which there are very few of these days.    Barra takes the reader on a journey that starts on "the Hill" …
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In the introduction to his latest effort, Barra (The Last Coach: A Life of Paul Bear Bryant) says that one of his goals was to create the first comprehensive work written about Yogi Berra, the greatest ballplayer never to have had a serious biography. The result is not only comprehensive but also incredibly engaging, as Barra narrates the life of one of the most eccentric ballplayers of the 20th century. Starting with his modest Italian upbringing in St. Louis, Mo., Berra quickly took a liking to what his father called a bum's game. And after a short career in the navy, he parlayed his talents into one of the most decorated athletic careers in history, leading the New York Yankees to 10 World Series championships and winning three MVPs. Each of Berra's baseball highlights is meticulously described, as are his stints as a manager for both the Yankees and crosstown Mets, his relationships with men like Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle and George Steinbrenner, and his ability to create some of the most famous catchphrases of our time, Yogiisms, as they're called. Barra's love of the catcher with the similar name is evident throughout this deserving biography of Yogi.(Mar.)
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ISBN-10: 0393062333
ISBN-13: 978-0393062335
Author: Allen Barra
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

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