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As many will attest, New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra was more than merely a baseball player: he was a consummate human being.

By Bryan Pol

1authorbryan2 - Yogi Berra: The Man Off the Field“Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes, I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”

–  Billy Joel, “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”

Upon returning home to the New York area (he was born and raised near Oyster Bay on Long Island), music legend Billy Joel released Turnstiles in 1976, some time removed from his three year stint living in Los Angeles.  On the album, Joel featured several New York-centric tracks, including “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” a prophetic song about the hypothetical fall of New York City, and “New York State of Mind.”

The lead track on the album was “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” featuring the above lyric, which has become YES Network personality Michael Kay’s daily sign-off on his ESPN Radio show opposite Don LaGreca.

Earlier Wednesday, Kay and LaGreca said a tearful goodbye to baseball legend, ambassador, and icon Yogi Berra, allowing the audience to phone in and tell their favorite Yogi stories.  Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, reports surfaced that Berra passed at the age of 90, suggesting the three-time MVP, ten-time World Series champion, and former Yankee and Met manager had died of natural causes.  The passing amounted to innumerable tributes on various television and radio broadcasts, none more engrossing than the 4 o’clock hour with Kay and LaGreca.

One caller phoned in to discuss a memory of working at racquetball court Berra owned near Plainfield, NJ.  He arrived early for his shift and saw Berra there, manning the entrance.  They both folded towels and spoke for over an hour about life and baseball. The distraught caller could barely get through his story, to which LaGreca quipped, “A simple moment like that tells you all you need to know about how welcoming a person Yogi was.”                         Another caller phoned to recant a story his father-in-law, a World War II veteran, always told him about Yogi.  Berra, a World War II vet himself, was part of a regiment that aided in the storming of Normandy Beach on D-Day, in which the Yankee catcher helped captain an artillery ship.  One of Berra’s biggest regrets, the caller recollected, was that he was not part of an infantry unit that actually breached the shores, a chilling memory, considering he watched many of his fellow infantrymen die that day.  The caller used this anecdote to underline Berra’s care-free attitude because, if Yogi could survive a day such as that, then nothing at all could possibly rattle him from that day forward, and leading the Yankees to a World Series title, even ten of them, would relatively pale in comparison. [su_youtube_advanced url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9GZnR8nDAo”]             Ultimately, Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay, a longtime friend of Berra’s, told a story that trumped them all, which he later retold during the YES pre-game show before the Yankees would face the Blue Jays in Toronto, a game in which they will don number 8 patches on their jerseys in homage to Berra, as they will for the remainder of the season.   According to Kay, Yogi Berra frequented the assisted living facility in New Jersey that housed another Yankee legend Phil Rizzuto, who was Berra’s teammate in the 1950s. Rizzuto, in extremely poor health, was visited by Berra on a daily basis.  Berra would play cards with Rizzuto and hold his hand until “Scooter” fell asleep, each and every night until his eventual passing in August of 2007.  Kay blubbered and sobbed (touchingly so) during the story, which LaGreca eventually had to finish.  Reflecting on the story, Kay, through LaGreca, added “Berra remained Rizzuto’s teammate, right until the very end.”  LaGreca remarked, “Fifty years might have separated them from their playing days, but they proved to be with each other, even in death.”        

In the end, many will note Yogi Berra as the Yankee legend he was, but the day of his death conveyed him as so much more: a consummate human being, one every Yankee personality cherished being around.  

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Bryan Pol

I am an English teacher, music and film aficionado, husband, father of two delightful boys, writer, sports fanatic, former Long Islander, and follower of Christ.

Based on my Long Island upbringing, I was groomed as a Yankees, Giants, Rangers, and Knicks fan, and picked up Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, and Tottenham Hotspur football fandom along the way.