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Driving Mr. Yogi

More than baseball, 'Driving Mr. Yogi' is a book about friendship.

By Steve Weinberg / April 5, 2012

Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball’s Greatest Gift By Harvey Araton Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 224 pp.

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Based on the cover, Driving Mr. Yogi looks like a book about Major League Baseball. It can be read narrowly as a baseball book, to be sure. Actually, though, the baseball imagery is camouflage. “Driving Mr. Yogi” is, foremost, a book about friendship across generations. Perhaps almost as importantly, it is a book about celebrity. Baseball is more the background than it is the subject matter.

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Even readers willfully ignorant about Major League Baseball probably know the name Yogi (born with the name Lawrence in St. Louis, Missouri) Berra, now in his late 80s. The former catcher for the New York Yankees, then Major League manager and coach, appears in television commercials, has lent his name to consumer products, has written books (helped by a professional wordsmith), and is quoted over and over as the dispenser of folk wisdom. Some of those quotations are actually accurate. (Sometimes it seems that every insightful quotation about American life has been attributed to Yogi Berra, Mark Twain, or Abraham Lincoln. One of Berra’s books, not so incidentally, carries the title “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said.”)

Ron Guidry’s name is well known to serious baseball fans, but perhaps is meaningless to others. A generation younger than Berra, Guidry was an accomplished pitcher and later coach for the New York Yankees. Guidry knew Berra and received baseball guidance from Berra while an active player. “Driving Mr. Yogi,” however, is mostly about the years 1999 to the present, when the elderly Berra began spending a few weeks in Florida at the Yankees baseball complex during the later winter and early spring, as the team prepared for the opening of the season in April.

Somewhat enfeebled physically, Berra needed chauffering and other attentiveness during his Florida visits, which he usually undertook without his devoted wife Carmen. Because of Berra’s legendary baseball insights and his likeability as a human being, Guidry offered to pick him up at the Tampa airport, get him settled in a hotel, escort him to dinner, drive him to the Yankees baseball complex, and above all, make sure everything happened on time. It turns out Berra is fanatic about everybody being on time, including himself.

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