Berra says he'll be his own man as Yankee pilot
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Looking out from the first base dugout at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, spring training home of the New York Yankees, the pinstriped hydrant that stood deep in left field seemed to move slightly when a long foul ball suddenly curled in its direction.Skip to next paragraph
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Upon closer inspection the gnome-like structure turned out to be Yogi Berra, who after eight years as a Yankee coach will manage the Bronx Bombers this season. The last and only other time Berra piloted the Yankees, in 1964, they won the American League pennant.
When New York eventually lost the '64 World Series to St. Louis, Yogi was fired and replaced by Johnny Keane, who had resigned as manager of the Cardinals the day after the Series ended.
''I don't know why they canned me,'' Berra told me as he watched his charges take batting practice. ''But if I hadn't lost Whitey Ford after he hurt his arm in the first game, we coulda won that thing. Whitey was the kind of pitcher who could win you two or three games in a Series like that. And a lot of people forget we didn't have shortstop Tony Kubek's bat for that Series either. Under the circumstances, I thought I done pretty good.''
Maybe this means nothing, but after Berra left, it was 12 years before the Yankees printed World Series tickets again. Meanwhile the New York Mets, with whom Yogi spent those years, won the only two pennants in their history - in 1969 when he was a coach, and in 1973 when he was manager. Finally, it was in 1976 when he returned to the Yankees as a coach that the team won its first pennant since he had left - and went on to win three more in the next five years.
In other words, Yogi must do something right. All-in-all he has been in 21 World Series - a record 14 as a player, two as a manager, and five as a coach.
Asked about reports that owner George Steinbrenner had twice before offered him the manager's job, Yogi replied: ''I don't know how that story got started, but it ain't true.'' Then he volunteered:
''I almost didn't say yes this time because I had this swell job as a coach that keeps me in New York and that's the only place I want to be. As a manager, all you can really look forward to is getting fired.
''When George spoke to me about managing for him, I told him I'd need a couple of days to think it over. I kind of wanted it, but I still wasn't sure until I talked with my kids. (Yogi has three grown sons, including Dale, the regular shortstop of the Pittsburgh Pirates.)
''Hey, you wouldn't believe how much those kids wanted me to manage the Yankees. They kept telling me I might not get another chance to manage in the big leagues, and that I better take it. So I figured I better take it. I know everyone on the club, so it wasn't like I was putting on a new pair of shoes. I think George wanted me to manage for him because I have a calming influence on people.''
However, the way Steinbrenner goes through managers (he's had 11 in as many years) you have to wonder if Yogi isn't settling into a pretty hot seat. The nicest thing some of his past managers have said about the owner is that he interferes.
''George can call me on the telephone all he wants and I'll listen, only that don't mean I'll do what he says,'' Berra grinned. ''One guy told me George called unbelievably early when the team is on the road, but that don't bother me none because I'm always up early. Besides, I've checked around, and Steinbrenner ain't the only owner who calls up his manager at odd times.''
Reminded that when he played for Casey Stengel's Yankees, the Ol' Perfesser had often called him ''my assistant manager,'' Berra replied: