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One of the men is named Giovanni Garagiola. The other is Pietro Berra.
Think of it. One of Giovanni's sons, Joe, would play for nine years in the major leagues—like his friend across the street, a catcher—and become an iconic broadcaster. Pietro's son, the one a childhood friend called Yogi for his resemblance to a Hindu snake charmer he had seen in the movies, would win more World Series than any player. Odds? Off the charts. Heck, the odds of Pietro Berra even allowing his youngest son to play baseball were staggering. Yogi always says that all of his brothers were better players than he was—Tony, in particular, who Yogi says could really hit—but they had to help support the family. And that's what Yogi was to do too. He quit school at 14. He worked for Johansen Shoe Company. He worked on a Coca-Cola truck. He worked in a coal yard.
He loved playing sports, though, loved it so much that he had trouble concentrating on his jobs. He played about as much soccer as he did baseball—St. Louis was the U.S. soccer epicenter back then—but at some point he understood that baseball was his only shot at living a different kind of life. His brothers pleaded with their father to let him sign with the Yankees. In 1943 Yogi played his first professional year, in Norfolk, Va. And then he went off to war.
The U.S. Navy asked for volunteers to man rocket boats. Berra would remember being so bored—he just wanted to do something—that he raised his hand. He ended up on one of those rocket boats that led the invasion of Utah Beach on D-Day. His whole life he remembered the explosions and, oddly, how hauntingly beautiful the scene looked. He stuck his head out to see. His lieutenant shouted that he needed to get his head down unless he wanted it blown off.
Yogi Berra was a proud man. In the early years after the war he took unmerciful abuse from players and writers. They called him ape. They said he was built like a bull penguin. They said he looked like the bottom man of an unemployed acrobat team. He was 5'7", weighed about 190 pounds and was called ugly enough times that one of those Yogi-isms that has made it through the years is "I don't hit with my face."
The insults drove him, as did the fear of humiliation. He felt embarrassed, for instance, when he struck out, and so for the bulk of his career he simply did not strike out. From 1950 to '56—a seven-year stretch during which Berra won three MVP awards and played catcher at a sustained level of greatness perhaps unsurpassed in baseball history—Berra hit 191 home runs and struck out 166 times. One day in 1950 he struck out twice against Dick Littlefield. He did not strike out again for three weeks. He did not strike out twice in a game again for more than a year.
Letting down his teammates embarrassed him. He almost never rested. There is an account of an afternoon early in his career when he took off the second game of a doubleheader and heard his teammate and idol Joe DiMaggio gripe that he was too young to be taking games off. That did it. In his seven golden years Berra played in 100 more games than any other catcher in baseball. There are so many numbers involving Yogi Berra that boggle the mind, but perhaps none more than this: In that seven-year prime Yogi Berra started at catcher in both games of a doubleheader 117 times. Seven times during that stretch he started both games of a doubleheader on back-to-back days.
Being late embarrassed him ... and so he was always the first to the ballpark. Always. Berra had terrible insomnia in his playing days; he worried constantly. So he would get up early, get to the ballpark, think about the game, study the players, come up with strategies. That habit of being early has never left him. He, like his teammate DiMaggio, had no tolerance for people who are late.
In return for his loyalty he expected your loyalty. He ruthlessly negotiated for more money at contract time. The way Yogi Berra figured it, he gave his soul to the team; they needed to pay him for that. That hunger to succeed, to win, it was often softened by the funny quotes and the nickname. But that hunger and pride are much of what makes Yogi Berra. Years later, in 1984, he became manager of the New York Yankees. He was told by George Steinbrenner himself that he would be given a chance to succeed, meaning he would not be fired. In 1985 he was not only fired, but Steinbrenner did not even do it himself. He sent general manager Clyde King to do the deed.
Berra did not show up at Yankee Stadium for 14 years after that. People begged him to return—his own family begged him. But he would have nothing to do with the Yankees. Finally, Steinbrenner himself made a pilgrimage to the Yogi Berra Museum to make peace. He was five minutes late, which drove Berra crazy. But Steinbrenner admitted he had made a terrible mistake when he fired Berra. He personally apologized to Carmen. Berra accepted, and on July 18, 1999, they held Yogi Berra Day at the old Yankee Stadium. That day David Cone threw a perfect game against the Montreal Expos with Yogi Berra and Don Larsen watching from the stands.