Monday, May 5, 2014

Driving Mr. Yogi by Harvey Araton

Driving Mr. Yogi is a story of friendship between two former Major League baseball players.  One who played in the late 1970's and the other who played in the 1950's and 60's.  More importantly it is a warm introduction to the oldest living NY Yankee, Yogi Berra.  What makes this a delightful read is that the subject is a great personality.  In an age of great wealth, great egos and arrogance that comes with great wealth, the reader is introduced to a warm unaffected personality in Yogi Berra.  The book centers around the seasons that Yogi Berra, retiree joined the Yankees in their Spring Training facility in Florida with Ron Guidry being Berra's personal driver.

It is a story of the reconciliation of George Steinbrenner, the contentious Yankee owner with an impulsive tendency to fire managers in an unreasonable manner.  When he fired Berra, he did not give him the courtesy of a personal meeting but rather assigned an underling to the task.  Berra's reaction was a demonstration of protest by boycotting the Yankee organization until amends would be made.  It would take a 14 year boycott of the organization before Mr. Steinbrenner approached Yogi Berra at his museum and learning center to apologize.

What makes Berra a great man is his ability to forgive and forget because after that apology Berra conducted himself as if the "Boss" was a close friend.  He stayed at the owners Hotel in Florida and enjoyed the occasions during which they met and dined.

Talking Baseball is Berra's life.  He can talk to anyone!  He has no pretenses.  He can talk to those in the hair salon in the same manner he  talks to people at a restaurant.  He rarely refuses an autograph - only when mobbed with unreasonable fans at a restaurant will he refuse by getting up and finding and another place to eat with little interruption.  In Florida, he would rotate restaurants with Mr. Guidry so that fans would not congregate to disturb.

Yogi Berra observed talent and his role in Tampa was to give his impressions of the young players and enjoy the general environment of Baseball.  He did not impose his views but rather responded when asked, being a true gentleman.  He gave hitting tips to slumping players effectively.  He befriended difficult people easily because of his affability. (When Derek Jeter struck out on a high pitch out of the strike zone, Yogi asked him why he swung at such a bad pitch?  As Jeter quipped "But you swung at the those pitches!" Berra rejoined adroitly "Yea, but I HIT them!")

In a world of ego maniacs, hedonism and culture lacking values, Yogi Berra stands out as an example of the simple values of friendship, loyalty, modesty and lack of pretensions.

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