Baseball Short Story
A Kid Named Berra
He's a Diamond in the Rough - And Vice Versa
Arthur Daley, Baseball Digest June 1949
Reprinted in Baseball Digest May/June 2024
Just about the time the war was ending, Larry MacPhail, then the president of the Yankees, conferred with Master Melvin Ott, then the manager of the Giants—which should show you what ancient history all this is. The rambunctious redhead had under contract four catchers of various degrees of ability and experience.
"I'd like to buy one of your catchers, Larry," said Master Melvin. "In fact, the Giants are willing to pay $50,000 for one of them."
"Which one?" asked MacPhail, suddenly cautious.
"I'd like a guy you probably don't even know you got," continued Ottie. "He's a kid named Berra."
MacPhail thought awhile and slowly shook his head. "Not Berra," he said, "he's not for sale."

L: Young Yogi Berra. R: Carmen and Yogi Berra
Perhaps there are some fans who promptly would think the astute MacPhail merely was showing the prescience which bespeaks genius. Stop jumping at conclusions, please. Laughing Larry was telling the story on himself in Havana a couple of seasons ago.
"If the truth must be told," he chuckled, "I'd never heard of Berra, but I figured if he was worth fifty grand to Ottie, he must be worth fifty grand to me. That's why I turned him down. But one day I'm in my office, and the girl comes in to announce that Mr. Berra is outside to see me. 'Berra?' I say to myself. 'That must be the kid Ottie was trying to buy.' So I tell her to show him in.
"So I waited for my first look at the prize package which was worth $50,000. The in­stant I saw him, my heart sank, and I wondered why I had been so foolish as to refuse to sell him. In bustled a stocky little guy in a sailor suit. He had no neck and his muscles were virtually busting the buttons on his uniform. He was one of the most unprepossess­ing fellows I ever set eyes on in my life. And the sailor suit accentuated every defect." MacPhail sighed and continued. "Since then, though, I've never regretted the move."
Berra is just as unique a character as he looked the first time Laughing Larry saw him. His honest moniker is Lawrence. But everyone calls him Yogi—as well as other less kindly names. However, Yogi is one of nature's noblemen with an honest heart that beats beneath that rough exterior. No ballplayer is ridden as cruelly or unmercifully as he. But he accepts it all with a homely grin. He hasn't the quick wit to retort in kind. So he laughs it all off and has won the deep affection—sometimes it almost amounts to admiration—of his teammates and the rival players.
The perfect description of him was supplied by Milton Gross, who called him "The Kid Ring Lardner Missed." Yogi is a pure throwback to the ballplayers of the "You Know Me, Al" Lardner era. The writers go around from day to day asking each other: "Did you hear the latest Berraism?" They coined a word, "Berraism," to set him aside in a separate category.
Perhaps the most wonderful one he ever pulled was the night in St. Louis, Yogi's hometown, when fans set aside a separate night in his honor. They showered him with gifts, and then came one of the most terrifying moments in Berra's life. He had to ap­proach a microphone and make a speech. They hauled him up there. Yogi shuffled up in a daze. Even his vocal cords were paralyzed. He spoke one sentence. It was a classic.
"I want to thank all you fans," he blurted, "for making this night necessary."
Yogi hits a tremendously long ball—when he hits it. But he has a pernicious habit of swinging at bad balls. No one tried harder to cure him of that habit than Bucky Harris. One day Bucky sent him in as a pinch hitter, but first he cautioned:
"Don't swing at a bad ball, Yogi," he warned. "Wait for it to be in there. When you get up to the plate, think, Yogi, think."
Yogi struck out and came back to the bench muttering.
Harris bent an ear in his direction and started laughing uproariously. What Yogi was saying was this: "How can a guy be expected to think and bat at the same time?"
Bucky was deeply enamored with him. Before the 1947 World Series someone asked him if Yogi would be nervous. He howled. "Yogi nervous?" he chortled. "He has about as much emotion as a fire hydrant."
But Berra was nervous. The Dodgers stole everything from him except his chest pro­tector.
"A guy doesn't get into a World Series every day," he protested. "After all, I'm human, ain't I?" No one had ever thought of it before.
However, Berra is a whale of a ball player. The Yankees won a pennant with him as a catcher even though his stubby fingers were so short that he had to paint them so the pitchers could distinguish the signs. Then he was an outfielder last season (a presentable one, too), now is a catcher again.
Bill Dickey, one of the greatest catchers of all time, is busy instructing him in the ru­diments of the position. As Yogi describes it: "Dickey is teaching me all his experi­ence." Berra used to take a step one time and no step the next. The Arkansas Traveler is at least making him consistent.
Yogi grew up across the street from Joe Garagiola of the Cardinals in St. Louis. In the sandlots Berra was a pitcher, Garagiola a catcher. They have been inseparable com­panions ever since, with Joe serving as Yogi's best man at his wedding two months ago. Perhaps we had better move in the Cards catcher as spokeman for the defense.
"Yogi married a beautiful and wonderful girl," he said with earnest simplicity. "But she couldn't have married a nicer, more gentle or finer man in this world than Yogi Berra."
The defense rests.
 

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