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Happy belated birthday to Yogi Berra, who turned 86 yesterday. We stumbled on a little gem we’d like to share with you from exactly half a century ago: Casey Stengel interviewing Yogi for the Armed Forces Radio Network. This transcript offers a rare look at two great American stylists.
Casey: I’d have to say, Mr. Berra, that you was one of the three outstanding catchers in the American league — there was Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane — and in the National League there was Harnett and Campanella. So that’s pretty good company for you. Now, you’ve talked to so many umpires, and you’ve conversed with them, the umpires are your friends, and so on and so forth, and I know they haven’t fined you so much in the last few years. How do you account for that?
Yogi: Well, you know, a lot of people think I’m always arguing with the umpires when I turn around, but actually I’m not. I’m just talking conversation to them.
[Many umpires appreciated this, some tolerated it, some hated it. Once, Tom Gorman, when asked by Yogi how his family was doing, shouted, “Shut up! My family died last night!”]
Casey: That’s what they told me for years. They never missed one from the heart. But they use their eyes. You know, they call them with their eyes. But from the heart they never missed one. Do you think your hitting has held up, Yogi? In the fourteen years you have been playing for the Yankees, do you think you can use your bat or can you swing as quickly or do you have the same wrist action that you used to have when you first started in baseball? Do you think you’ve overcome the fact that you don’t chase as many bad balls as you used to when you were first in baseball? I thought you were getting over it. But this is one thing that you did this year. You almost hit a one-hopper. Some day you may hit a home run on a pitch like that.
[Casey means that Yogi swung at, and hit a ball that hit the ground before reaching home plate. Thee are many stories of Berra having done this, though none have been verified; in any case, a ball that hit the dirt before reaching home plate would be considered a dead ball, and the resulting hit nullified — that is, if the umpire actually saw it hit the dirt.]
Yogi: I had a bad year last year, and maybe the reason was I tried to hit too many good pitches.
Casey: I think you’re right. There’s nobody playing where they go. They can’t be playing for a ball over your head or one that’s pitched on the ground. Now, let’s get into something else. You used to be a serviceman, Yogi, and I know you got a lot of friends out there among the men in the services, and there’s one thing I would like to ask in their behalf. You used to wear a white glove when you were catching, and I wondered why you would wear a white glove like you had just come from a wedding and you forgot to take off the white gloves. Why is it that you used a white glove when you was a catcher?
This is all we were able to obtain of the transcript.
There is no simple answer as to what Stengel was talking about. He might have been referring to a glove Yogi slipped over his catching hand to cushion the impact of fastballs, or he might have been referring to gloves he wore to prevent cuts on his hands from getting infected. Those gloves resulted in one of his most widely quoted Yogisms: ” the only reason I need these gloves is ’cause of my hands.” In The Yogi Book (1998, LTD Enterprises, p. 20), Berra explained, “Carm, Tim, and I were in the back yard gardening. I began complaining about getting scratches and mud all over my hands. Carmen really let me have it. She finally threw me a pair of gloves …”
What ever Casey might have been talking about, he was probably making a joke about how effete his catcher looked wearing a white glove. Maybe.