Sunday, June 22, 2008


Kerns: Fresh take on Yogi Berra a solid hit
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Sunday, June 22, 2008Story last updated at 6/22/2008 - 7:42 am

It did not matter that I grew up in Colorado and Wyoming. I somehow started out a Yankees fan. I had plenty of individual baseball heroes: Dodgers and Cubs, Pirates and Giants. But by the time I turned 8 or 9, I thought the New York Yankees hung the moon.

Of course, back when I was discovering baseball, the Yankees were a mainstay on Saturday afternoon's televised game of the week. They made a habit of competing for, and winning, championships. Everyone had a favorite Yankee. But all of us also liked Yogi, who became a Yankee before I was born.

Now readers can learn so much more about the recognizable baseball icon - the man as well as the ballplayer - by reading Carlo DeVito's well-written, entertaining and often enlightening biography of Lawrence Peter Berra titled "Yogi: The Life and Times of an American Original" (Triumph Books).

Books by and about Berra already are numerous and easy to find, and DeVito must have read them all, painstakingly documenting his material while separating the facts from exaggeration.
DeVito's literary look back works primarily because he paints Berra as a person rather than a clown, and as both a dangerous hitter and a ballplayer who took advantage of a later opportunity to develop into a Major League catcher.

It would not be a Berra biography without Yogi's many individual quotations; for example he would advise his friends to "always attend other people's funerals, so they will attend yours."
But books devoted solely to the funny things Yogi said already have been written.
Instead, DeVito captures a ballplayer who liked people and was smarter (see his financial investments) and more sensitive than many realized.
Berra told one reporter, "My wife, she don't like the stories which make me out a dope."
DeVito makes certain readers are aware of the insensitive remarks aimed his way.
The book does follow Berra's wartime experiences in the Navy but focuses more on how much baseball meant to him.

Readers will be dazzled by the number of offensive and defensive records broken by Berra during his career, not to mention the almost-magical way he seemed to wind up in yet another World Series.
Just as thrilling, though, are passages that find former Yankee catcher Bill Dickey hired to show Berra that there is more to baseball than hitting, and how to achieve it.

Berra, after all, was the man behind the plate for Allie Reynolds' two no-hitters.
And who could ever forget the photograph of Berra leaping into Don Larsen's arms after catching Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series?

DeVito follows Berra through the years, leading readers into and out of ball parks. The author takes us well past Berra's managing jobs with the Yankees and Mets - he would take both to a seven-game World Series - and may be the first to explore and explain Berra's 14-year boycott of Yankee Stadium after being fired by George Steinbrenner.
Mentioned, without being emphasized, are moments when other famous Yankees reveal a lack of class in the way they treat, or speak of, a teammate named Berra.
Fans may be shocked, but there are no sacred cows in this infield. And these bits of history won't be forgotten.
One also learns more about Berra from his reactions to the deaths of too many friends.
DeVito provides the research, a ballplayer's life story, as proof - then makes his point that Joe DiMaggio never passed any legendary Yankee crown on to Mickey Mantle.
DeVito writes: "Berra was an incontrovertible link in the chain of great Yankees.
"The Yankees lineage went from Babe Ruth to Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio to Berra to Mantle to Thurman Munson and Graig Nettles and Reggie Jackson to Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter."
No comparison to modern-day players (or salaries) has to be made when we learn that, in 1962, at age 37, Berra was the only Yankees catcher in a 22-inning, seven-hour game.

Happily, DeVito also recounts Berra's fascinating reunion with Larsen at Yankee Stadium in 1999. The two friends celebrated the aforementioned perfect game with a ceremonial first pitch on the first "Yogi Berra Day" - then sat back and watched Yankee pitcher David Cone toss a perfect game against the Expos.
It was a perfect time for Berra to point out, "It's like deja vu all over again."

Even fans who read "Yogi: The Life and Times of an American Original" may be startled by how little they really knew about the Yankee they remember cheering.
WILLIAM KERNS' entertainment reviews and commentary can be heard at 8:15 a.m. Monday through Friday on KLLL Radio (96.3 FM).