Wednesday, April 30, 2008


The Man Behind the Malaprop
By PETE HAUSLERApril 29, 2008 11:50 a.m.
"Yogi: The Life & Times of an American Original" is biography as first-generation immigrant success story. And as such, biographer Carlo DeVito begins the story of Yogi Berra at Ellis Island in 1912, with one Pietro Berra, an Italian immigrant just arrived on an old passenger steamer. Pietro settles in St. Louis, marries an Italian girl and raises a family, including Lawrence Peter Berra, who would, in his teenage years, forever and anon become known as Yogi.
Yogi Berra during spring training with the New York Yankees in 1949.

Mr. DeVito cobbled together this biography from over 4,000 sources, including books, magazine and newspaper articles, game programs and interviews. In sifting through this wealth of material, Mr. DeVito makes what seems initially like a strange choice: He includes many stories, anecdotes, and quotes that are now widely considered to be apocryphal (his word). Mr. DeVito, in good faith, states this fact whenever he's sure that the story is not entirely true. It feels like an odd strategy for a biography, but the more these incidents appear in "Yogi," the more it makes sense to include them.

Because, as Mr. DeVito makes abundantly clear, there are and always have been two Yogi Berras: 1) the public celebrity — a goofy, good-natured, strange-looking (sportswriters at the time used far-worse adjectives), malaprop-spewing simpleton from the Italian slums of St. Louis and 2) the real person behind the public persona, a far more complex and intelligent character. Mr. DeVito mentions that one of the unwitting perpetuators of the Yogi Myth was his childhood buddy and lifelong-friend, Joe Garagiola Sr.

Mr. Berra and Mr. Garagiola grew up in a Depression-era, Italian immigrant St. Louis neighborhood called The Hill. For a long time, their two lives ran parallel; both were excellent athletes, both yearned to be professional baseball players, both were scouted, then signed to contracts as teenagers, and both broke into the majors in 1946. Mr. Garagiola eventually left baseball for a career in the broadcasting booth, and his amusing stories about his old friend Yogi from The Hill became a regular part of his shtick (like when Mr. Berra allegedly signed his first and last names to an anniversary card for his wife, Carmen).

Mr. Berra broke in with the New York Yankees, where he quickly morphed into a mainstay on one of baseball's great dynasties. Mr. Berra played with some of the most storied names in Yankee history, bridging the gap between the Joe DiMaggio era and the Mickey Mantle era. In Mr. Berra's early years in New York he was still learning the ins and outs of the catcher position. The book on him was that he was a good, raw, powerful hitter, but a liability on defense. Manager Bucky Harris's approach was to move him around to where he could do the least damage. He played nearly 40% of his games in the outfield in 1947 and 1948, the rest at catcher.
Far more startling is how viciously he was maligned for his looks. In Mr. DeVito's words: "Berra was first tormented by his own team, then later by other teams, and then by the press. … In his first few years he was called ugly, Neanderthal, caveman, gorilla, ape, nature boy, freak, Quasimodo, and many other names. Worse yet, was his own manager calling him 'the ape.'" Readers of modern-day, New York-area sports pages who think contemporary writers are a tough crowd should get a load of some of the descriptions — epithets, really — hurled Mr. Berra's way.

Rud Rennie of the New York Herald-Tribune told Mr. Harris, "He doesn't even look like a Yankee." Arthur Daley once wrote, albeit jokingly, "Yogi Berra is barred from baseball for life because he isn't photogenic enough." Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the scribes' mob-like vitriol is its casual insidiousness. Even when writing about Mr. Berra's 1950 contract negotiation, John Drebinger of The New York Times can't help himself in describing Yogi thusly: "The gnome-like backstop never has, and likely never will, look like a ballplayer." And this ad hominem attack came after Mr. Berra had proven himself, as he was becoming a popular standout in the Yankees lineup and in baseball.

Mr. DeVito particularly shines in his depictions of Mr. Berra's yearly ritual of the contract negotiation. The multi-year deal is such a given nowadays, it's hard to image a time when it didn't exist. Mr. Berra's annual scenes at the proverbial bargaining table are usually played for laughs here, in a "ha-ha, here we go again" kind of way. But they serve to show a determined and financially shrewd Mr. Berra whom money men would underestimate at their own risk.
Mr. Berra's dogged approach to his contract negotiations were a product of both a hardscrabble childhood and a perceived contractual slight early in his professional career (a minor-league signing bonus that never materialized, due to small-print technicalities). The negotiations grew more cordial over time, as Yogi's importance to the Yankees, and his popularity with fans, became more apparent. But his first three or four contracts were contentious (including a couple of hold-outs), with Mr. Berra often feeling he was being low-balled by George M. Weiss, the Yankees' notoriously thrifty general manager. And through this repetition, Mr. DeVito depicts an era where every player negotiated without agents, going mano a mano with management every year, whether you were Mr. DiMaggio or a utility infielder.

This astute-businessman aspect of Mr. Berra meshes with a recurring thread of "Yogi," that there is far more to the man than the veneer of his affable, water-off-the-back persona. Mr. DeVito excels at depicting the success of Yogi Berra the Product Pitchman. He has touted dozens of products over the years, but perhaps his most fascinating was his deal with the chocolate drink maker Yoo-hoo. Mr. Berra wasn't merely a paid celebrity talking head. He actually invested in the company (both personally and as a go-between for other interested investors), pitched the product, and convinced his Yankee teammates to do the same. With Mr. Berra as the celebrity face of the drink, Yoo-hoo became in the late 1950s, "one of the most famous product launches in American advertising and snack-food history."

Today, the name Yogi Berra transcends baseball, and the face that was once cruelly mocked, is now beloved and recognized worldwide.


Write to Pete Hausler at

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Courier-Press Loves YOGI

From the Courier-Press (Evansville, KY)
April 20, 2008

"Yogi: The Life & Times Of An American Original" by Carlo DeVito -- A fascinating portrait of one of the finest catchers in baseball history draws on hundreds of articles, interviews, biographies, and other sources to provide an authoritative biography of Yankee great Yogi Berra, detailing his remarkable career as a player, coach, and manager while celebrating his role as a much-quoted humorist.

Listen to Mark Malusis and Carlo DeVito Talk About YOGI on WFAN

I was on with Mark Malusis April 19, 2008, Saturday night and Sunday morning on the overnight with Mark Malusis. Mark is a first rate announcer. He's a great host and had obviously read the book. It was a tremendous amount of fun talking with him on the show.


Marc "Moose" Malusis has made a respected name for himself at the FAN. He hosts 3 overnights shows per week at the station. He also serves as a 20-20 anchor and station reporter. Prior to, Marc worked on the popular afternoon drive show, Mike and the Mad Dog, for 6 years. He was the producer for Mike and Chris up until January 2007.

He is a huge Redskins and Yankees fan. Marc roots for the Rangers and Knicks as well. One of his greatest sports moments is being in the Super Dome when Syracuse beat Kansas to win the NCAA National Championship. Marc was given the tag of "Moose" by Joe Benigno on the first overnight he produced for Joe in September of 2000.

You can go to his webpage on WFAN at:

Thursday, April 17, 2008


March 14, 2008
by David Rubin, Shea Nation,

Yogi: The Life and Times on an American Original By Carlo DeVitoI am partial to this book for two reasons; first, I absolutely love Yogi, always have, since I can remember, as he was the “Yoo Hoo” pitchman when I began watching baseball, in 1968, and that fondness only grew when he succeeded the late Gil Hodges as manager of the Mets, who lost the World Series to the Oakland A’s under Yogi; second, I have read a number of books about Yogi over the years, both written by him as well as others, but this is the first book that really paints an accurate portrait of Yogi and not just what he did say, but what he didn’t say but has been attributed to him over the years! Sadly, Yogi was subject to all kinds of ridicule, due to his physical looks and seemingly simple intelligence, yet Yogi, through hard work and determination earns 10 World Series rings (tops of all players), 3 MVPs and the designation as one of the 2 or 3 greatest catchers of all time! He was also a master at making money, as his numerous commercial ventures will attest, and ended up as the most successful former Yankee after his playing career was over, at least as far as remaining in the public eye and being paid for it! Yogi is a deeply principled man, and his refusal to return to Yankee Stadium after being treated poorly by owner George Steinbrenner was particularly interesting and poignant. Equally interesting was the portrayal of life-long friend, Joe Garagiola, and how he perpetuated many of the false statements attributed to his friend. Overall, this was one of the most entertaining and informative baseball bios I’ve read in a long time, right up there with Montville’s “The Big Bam.” Remember- “baseball is 90% mental – the other half is physical!”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Baseball rules
By Larry Thornberry
April 6, 2008
Washington Times
Baseball is back. And not a minute too soon for the millions of fans of the Grand Old Game. Now mornings can begin as they were meant to begin, with coffee, toast (a bagel if you prefer) and box scores in the morning paper.

Triumph Books has brought out two volumes by two veteran sportswriters that make fine companions to the return of the national pastime.

"The Code" is a behind-the-scenes look that will help even veteran baseball viewers better understand the games they're watching, particularly those close pitches, hard slides at second, charging the mound, and catcher/runner collisions at home plate that sometimes lead to bench-clearing brawls. (OK, they're usually more shoving and shouting sessions than real brawls — players today make too much money to suffer a season-ending injury in a brawl — but occasionally someone does get his lights punched out). And "Yogi" is a pleasant trip through the life of one of the game's best players and most recognizable and revered characters, Yogi Berra....

Yogi, on the other hand, is no enigma. He's one of those one-name people who almost everyone, even those who don't follow baseball, recognizes at once. He was born to poor Italian immigrant parents in the "Dago Hill" section of St. Louis (later changed to "The Hill" to satisfy political correctness).

He survived the Great Depression and a loving but no-nonsense father who considered baseball a frivolous pastime to go on to become one of the best catchers and most feared clutch hitters the game has ever seen. He coached and managed (the Yankees and the Mets) into his seventies, and retired finally as one of the most popular men to every wear Yankee pinstripes. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Mr. DeVito doesn't break any new ground in his book, but he covers well, with about the right amount of detail and the right number of anecdotes, the basics of the well-lived life (which thankfully, goes on — at 82, Yogi is still with us) of an iconic American character. He separates Berra the cartoon creation of sports writers from Berra the baseball player, husband, father, savvy businessman, and good friend to many.

Young Americans, even young baseball fans, think of Mr. Berra, who last played in 1963, as a somewhat odd-looking, old pitchman for various products on TV, and the author of various mangled but funny sayings such as, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," or, "Baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical." But baseball fans over 60 remember Yogi as an outstanding catcher and about the last man opposing pitchers wanted to see at the plate when the game was on the line.

Most of Yogi's 358 life-time homers seemed to come when it really mattered. His malapropisms were more than offset by his clutch hits, his deft calling of games, his toughness on plays at the plate, and his crackling, on-the mark throws to nab larcenous base runners. Laugh all you want at the Yogisms; this guy was a ball player.

Yogi's story is also baseball's and America's story, from the Depression years when young "Lawdie" Berra was playing sandlot ball with his pal-for-life, Joe Garagiola, to the post-everything years of drugs and steroids and preposterous player salaries. Yogi's career crosses paths with the game's greats. He was teammates with such as Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle. His personal coach who helped him hone his catching skills was Hall of Fame Yankee catcher Bill Dickey, teammate of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In 1985, his final year managing the Yankees, Yogi's team included Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Lou Piniella, and Ken Griffey Sr.

That's a lot of baseball, American and Berra history. Mr. DeVito captures much of this. And Yogi Berra, to paraphrase one of Yogi's famous fractured sayings, was the guy who made it all necessary.

Larry Thornberry is a writer living in Tampa.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Curveballs and high counts: Baseball's latest notorious era is reflected in this year's lineup of books
Bruce Dancis Apr 06, 2008 (The Sacramento Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --

Baseball's steroids scandal and the publication of former Sen. George Mitchell's report on the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs affects how we fans look at our national pastime. It also affects how we look at some of this season's baseball books in our 18th annual guide....

Among the new biographies of great ballplayers from the past, consider: Charles C. Alexander's "Spoke: A Biography of Tris Speaker" (Southern Methodist University Press, $25.95, 360 pages), on the great center fielder whose 22-year career (mostly with the Red Sox and Cleveland Indians) led him to be among the first inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Carlo DeVito's "Yogi: The Life & Times of an American Original" (Triumph, $25.95, 400 pages), a useful reminder that the Yankees' Yogi Berra not only provided baseball with some its greatest quotes and malapropisms but was one of the greatest catchers of all time.