But how did Lawdie become Yogi? Historians agree it happened in his teens. At least five people, including Garagiola, have been credited for giving Yogi his name. Garagiola has said, "It was because he walked like a yogi." The New York Times once said it was because young Lawdie had taken up yoga-like exercises. According to other accounts, it was because nothing ever upset Berra, or because one day he was wrestling and spun out of his opponent's grasp, and someone said, "He spins like a yo-yo." Then someone else said, "You mean he spins like one of them yogis." The most established version is that Berra used to sit around serenely with his arms and legs crossed, and one of his American Legion teammates, having seen some yogis in a travelogue about India, said he sat like a yogi. Berra told me a few weeks ago that this last version was correct, except, "Nahhh. There wasn't any movie."
And yet this spring I also heard him telling reporters that he had no idea why he'd been dubbed Yogi. "I had a brother they called 'Garlic,' " Berra told one reporter who pressed him for possible explanations of his cognomen, "and his name was Mike." Berra did say that the original dubber was his American Legion teammate Bobby Hofman—one of the few people connected with youth baseball in St. Louis in the '40s who, according to my research, had never been credited before.
So there you are. Taped onto the Berras' refrigerator door in Montclair is a letter from a boy in San Francisco, which Yogi hasn't gotten around to answering:
Dear Yogi Berra,
My name is Yogi, and I am 9. I hate my name because kids at school joke about it a lot. All the time. You are the only other Yogi I ever heard of. Where did you get your name from? My teacher told me about you. I hope that is OK. She said you just about invented baseball. How long did you play? Will you be my friend? I sure need one.
P.S. What do your friends call you? Did you ever get so mad you wanted to punch somebody?
When Berra came into organized ball, he, too, was the butt of cruel kidding—people swinging from dugout roofs and calling him Ape was typical of this kind of humor—and he never fought back. He says it never bothered him, but that's hard to believe. Even some of the compliments he got would have upset most people. Cannon wrote that he and Berra were sitting in a restaurant when a woman stopped by the table.
"I don't think you're homely at all," the strange lady said.
"Thank you," replied Berra, sincerely.
In 1949, Cannon reported that some players had theorized that Berra swung at bad pitches because he was afraid of being ridiculed for taking a strike. "Notice how Yogi acts when he misses a ball?" one player was quoted as saying. "He shrinks and closes up. They kid him so much he's afraid of looking bad in the spotlight."
But if that was Berra's motivation for attacking every pitch he could reach, he turned that anxiety into a strength that caused opponents to consider him the Yankee they would least like to face in the clutch. He was always at his best in the late innings. "You give 100 percent in the first half of the game," he's said to have said, "and if that isn't enough, in the second half you give what's left." And you don't look back to add things up. "He doesn't dwell on mistakes," says Carmen. "When something happens, it's done. His wheels are immediately turning about what to do next. I guess it's a quality that successful men have. I read that about David Rockefeller when he made a bad loan."