Yogi Berra

Photo by Nancy Ostertag/Getty Images

METSellaneous: Joey Wahler On The Mets -- Dale Berra’s New Book Says Yogi Saved His Life

June 21, 2019 - 4:30 pm

By Joey Wahler

When Don Larsen struck out Dodgers outfielder Dale Mitchell in 1956, ending the only World Series perfect game ever, pregnant Carmen Berra watched from the stands knowing what she and her husband, Yogi, would name their third child in memory of that historic achievement: Dale.

“Dad was king, but mom was the boss,” Dale said. “So what mom said, went.”

That story epitomizes the theme of Dale’s recently released book, My Dad, Yogi: A Memoir of Family and Baseball. Yogi was a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, and a record ten-time World Series winner. Yet to Dale, he was simply, dad.

“This book is about family, and dad stressed family,” Dale said. “How mom and dad instilled that in us growing up,” he said of the late couple, married 65 years. “And how my mom and dad looked at each other. And the respect they had for each other. Looking back, it was a great thing for kids to grow up in, and observe that love affair between my mom and dad.”

A former 11-year major league infielder, mainly with the Pirates and for two seasons as a Yankee, Dale says Yogi never pressured him or his older brothers, Tim and Larry, regarding baseball. As a boy, when Dale asked Yogi to play catch, “That’s what you got brothers for,” Yogi replied. “He did not want to be hands-on with us,” Dale said. “He thought it was better that we learn the game ourselves, teach ourselves, and play ourselves without the pressure of him watching us.

“All he said was, ‘Go out and have fun, respect your opponent, play hard.’ That’s it.”

In the 1960s, Dale grew up a Met fan because his father was their first base coach.

“My baseball love was one-hundred percent formed by (manager) Casey Stengel taking over the Mets,” Dale said. “And me watching (Ron) Swoboda, and (Tom) Seaver, and (Ed) Kranepool and (Jerry) Koosman come up as kids.”

The Mets won the 1969 world championship with Yogi on their close knit staff under manager Gil Hodges, joining Rube Walker, Ed Yost and Joe Pignatano.

“Those are his buddies,” Dale said. “Those are his coaching pals. They were inseparable. His joy was in watching them be happy. He’s had his ten World Series. That ’69 win was just as important to him because he was so happy for the guys.”

When Hodges suddenly died after a heart attack just before the 1972 season, Yogi was offered the managerial job, but out of respect he initially told Hodges’ wife, Joan, he didn’t want to accept.

“Please do, Gil would want no one else to have it,” Hodges said, according to Dale. “He took the job under very difficult circumstances for sure.”

Yogi’s Mets led the 1973 World Series three games to two before losing the last two in Oakland. Yogi drew criticism for starting losing pitcher Tom Seaver in Game Six on short rest instead of saving him for Game Seven. Dale says that decision was made in concert with Walker and Mets General Manager Bob Scheffing, the lost series stinging Yogi.

“That was a tough one,” Dale said. “That was a real tough one. He wanted to win that, bad.”

Previously, in his first season as Yankee manager in 1964, despite managing them to a seven-game, World Series loss to the Cardinals, Berra was fired. Earlier that year as the Yanks struggled, they supposedly promised to replace Yogi the next season with St. Louis skipper Johnny Keane, Dale says.

Even had the Yankees won the ’64 Series, “It’s possible he would’ve been fired anyway,” Dale said. “Hard to believe.”

When Dale joined the Yankees in 1985, Yogi was their skipper. Any potential awkwardness was quickly derailed.

“Dad, how we going to do this?” Dale asked. Yogi replied, “What do you mean how we going to do it? If you hit, you play. If you don’t, you don’t.” That was that. “Very blunt,” Dale recalled.

During the first team meeting that spring, Dale raised his hand to ask Yogi a question, addressing him as Skip. Yankee lefty Ron Guidry intervened.

“Guidry stood up,” Dale said. “And said in his Cajun voice, ‘That man is not your Skip, that man is your dad. And you are his son. Don’t ever call him Skip again.’ That broke the ice.”

While playing, Dale endured well publicized cocaine and alcohol abuse. His book details how supportive Yogi was at that time, like when Dale was arrested for drug possession, prompting Yogi to fly home from Houston where he was an Astros coach.

“You look in his eyes, and there’s not even the slightest, ‘Why are you embarrassing me?’” Dale said. “He looks right at me with his eyes and says, ‘Are you OK, kid? Are you all right? I want you to be all right.’ And you feel that. And that’s exactly how he was.”

The 12th overall pick in the 1975 baseball draft, Berra acknowledges his career was shortchanged by substance abuse.

“It took away what I could’ve been,” Dale said. Rehab hadn’t worked, and when Yogi heard Dale was still using he summoned him to his home in Montclair.

“When I got there, he and my brothers and my mom were waiting for me,” Dale said. “And they simply had an intervention with me that I write about in the book that was extremely powerful.” Yogi and Dale’s brothers issued him a life changing ultimatum.

“And it was basically, ‘Make a decision. You want to be a Berra or you don’t,’” Dale said. “And it wasn’t ten seconds before I knew I would never do another drug again. And that was 27 years ago.”

With Larry and Tim, Dale now owns LTD Enterprises, overseeing business related to Yogi’s brand. A Yogi movie and documentary are in the works.

So who’ll play Yogi?

“I don’t think they’ve made that actor, that’s the problem.” Dale said.

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