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WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
JOE POSNANSKI
July 04, 2011
SI'S 12TH ANNUAL REUNION OF HEROES FROM THE PAST BRINGS BACK THE QUIET WISDOM OF YOGI BERRA, THE POWER OF THE NFL'S STARS OF THE '60s, THE FUN OF MAJOR LEAGUE, THE INSPIRATION OF MICHELLE AKERS, THE MAJESTY OF SIR ROGER BANNISTER, THE CHALLENGES OF BEING A RETIRED NBA BIG MAN IN A SMALL WORLD AND THE SHEER JOY OF THE 1971 PIRATES
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July 04, 2011

Where Are They Now?

SI'S 12TH ANNUAL REUNION OF HEROES FROM THE PAST BRINGS BACK THE QUIET WISDOM OF YOGI BERRA, THE POWER OF THE NFL'S STARS OF THE '60s, THE FUN OF MAJOR LEAGUE, THE INSPIRATION OF MICHELLE AKERS, THE MAJESTY OF SIR ROGER BANNISTER, THE CHALLENGES OF BEING A RETIRED NBA BIG MAN IN A SMALL WORLD AND THE SHEER JOY OF THE 1971 PIRATES

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Luck? What is luck anyway?

Yogi Berra began every one of his love letters to Carmen with the same three words: "Received your letter." He was smitten the first time he saw her. She was a waitress at Biggie's restaurant in St. Louis—later to become Stan and Biggie's when Stan Musial joined in—and she was beautiful, and Yogi Berra was not sure how he would ask her out. He did not like talking much.

Well, that was not exactly true. He loved talking on the baseball diamond. He talked to hitters. He talked to umpires. He talked to pitchers. He talked to whoever would listen. This led to some classic moments, such as the time the Indians' Larry Doby walked up to the plate and, before Berra could say a word, turned to the umpire and said, "Please tell him to shut up."

Or the time in Boston that it was so hot that Berra decided to get thrown out of the game. The umpire that day was Cal Hubbard, a former football player who did not listen to much talk before throwing players out of games. Berra figured it would be easy. So he made a few cracks. Hubbard didn't say a thing. Then, Berra started openly arguing about balls and strikes. Again, Hubbard didn't say a thing. Finally, Berra turned and tried to show up Hubbard, the surest way to get thrown out of the game. Hubbard calmly said, "Berra, if I have to be out here in this heat, so do you."

While he could not stop talking on the field—"Shut your yap, I'm trying to hit here," Ted Williams told him once (though Ted was one of the few who normally loved chatting with Yogi)—Berra was terrified of public speaking. His famous "Thank you for making this day necessary" Yogi-ism was, like so many of them, a simple slip of the tongue because of his nervousness. But he was so taken with Carmen that he broke through and asked her out. And she was so taken by his earnestness that she said yes. They have been married for 62 years.

The thing that Carmen always says about Yogi is this: He is solid. He is the same today as yesterday as tomorrow. He is never late. He is never mean. He is stubborn and regimented. Poker on Wednesdays. Three ounces of vodka with ice, if the doctor allows it. He spends as much time as he can with their three sons and 11 grandchildren. And he proudly holds on to baseball. He never misses a Yankees game.

Also, he doesn't change. In the Yogi Berra Museum there's the famous photo of Jackie Robinson stealing home during the 1955 World Series—one of the few World Series that Berra's teams lost. The steal of home happened in Game 1, and Berra was outraged. He was a fine catcher with a good arm, but one thing he did better than just about anyone else was jump out in front of the plate on bunts and stolen-base attempts. He jumped out so early, there was some worry that he might get hit with the bat. Berra was sure he had tagged Robinson out.

While walking through the museum, Berra did not even seem to notice the picture. He was talking about how he loves Little League baseball but wishes kids would organize more of their own games. When his own sons were young and they asked him to play catch, he would say, "Go ask your brothers." Adults, he thinks, should stay out of the way when it comes to baseball.

Then he passed the photograph. Without hesitating, without even turning his head, he pointed and said, "He's out." And then he went right back to talking about children and baseball.

Yogi Berra takes me around his museum, and he points at the different displays, but he hardly says a word. Berra fell from his front porch in 2010. His memory is still sharp, but his voice has grown softer. He embraces silences even more than he ever did.

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