Saturday, June 6, 2015
Yogi and I
This recent page on my book-a-day calendar got me thinking ... remembering ...
It's hard to imagine, I know, but there was a day when baseball games were not on TV all that often. When I was growing up in Oklahoma in the 1950s, there were no Major League teams near us. Hell, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, the Giants in New York, and the thought of a team in Houston or Kansas City or Dallas was, well, an impossible thought.
In the days before cable, our trusty roof antenna brought in only three stations in Enid--none too well, even the Enid station (the others were in Oklahoma City). NBC offered its Game of the Week--Saturday afternoon. And that was it. If you wanted baseball broadcasts every day, you headed for the radio. Which is what my great-grandfather Lanterman did up in Austintown, Ohio, on his farm on Four Mile Run Road. Every day he listened to the Tribe while he sipped some Old Overholt.
NBC, of course, wanted the biggest audience possible for its advertisers (Vance Packard wrote long ago that television is about nothing but money), so they often broadcast Saturday games played by the most popular and/or reviled teams in the nation. The Dodgers, the Yankees. And it was then, in boyhood, that I became a Yankee fan (I saw DiMaggio play on TV back then, the young Mickey Mantle). And it was then that I began to admire--revere--idolize--the Yankee catcher Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra.
When we moved to Hiram, Ohio, in August 1956 (Yogi hit .298 that year), I was eleven years old (would not turn twelve until November), and my dad helped found the first Hiram little league team (the Hot Stove League, it was), and at the first practice I lied. The coach (who?) was asking us if any of us had ever played catcher. No hands went up. So then I raised my (lying) hand. And became a catcher. Like hero Yogi. Well ... not too much like him.
Yogi was everywhere in those days, famous not just for his exploits on the field but for his bumbling use of the English language (see the title of his book above). One of the favorite little paperbacks that my younger brother, Dave, and I had was called Curve Ball Laughs. It included an entire section devoted to Yogi's cluckery--"Straw Berras and Cream."
Here's a link to Baseball Almanac's list of favorite Yogi sayings--one of the best of which, I think, is this one: “I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”
By the way, not long after we moved to Ohio, Dad took Dave and me to some Tribe games at the old Stadium. I was still a Yankee fan (I would slowly shed that disgrace), and at one Yanks v. Tribe game I was cheering for something Yogi had just done, and a drunk in front of us turned and snarled, "You a Yankee fan?"
"Yes!" I cried, refusing to deny my hero.
"I hate your guts."
My parents, recognizing my adoration, bought me an idol (proscribed, of course, in the Ten Commandments): a Yogi Berra plastic action figure that I wish I still had so I could sell it on eBay and fund my retirement more expansively.
I just looked and found it on eBay--$125 without the mask (which mine had). Mine would surely bring a cool 500K, wouldn't it?
Footnote: I should say that my catching career went pretty well in Hiram. I became ... decent. And it was not until I moved to Class D (the oldest) in Hot Stove play (I played for Garrettsville; Hiram had no team) and, a year later, with an American Legion team in Windham--it was not until then that I learned I really wasn't all that good. I was catching pitchers who threw so hard that ... well ... it frightened me. That's not good. And, later, at Hiram College, I learned as a frosh that Hiram already had an all-conference catcher who was only a sophomore. Relieved, I took up tennis. Became decent ... until ...