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The Fourteen-year Feud Between Yogi Berra and George Steinbrenner Finally Comes to An End!
“It’s over…Fourteen years is long enough!”
And with those seven words, uttered by Yogi Berra on January 5, 1999, followed by a simple handshake and an emotional embrace, the man who famously coined the phrase, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” declared that his feud with “The Boss,” George Steinbrenner, had finally come to an end. And when Yogi Berra says it’s over, it’s definitely over.
On top of that, the unfortunate episode culminated in what can only be described as a “storybook ending” later in the year. Read on…
I’m reading the wonderful book “Driving Mr. Yogi,” by Harvey Araton, a book I highly recommed to all baseball history fans. In it he gives a vivid recounting of the famous feud between Yogi Berra and George Steinbrenner. The rift began in 1985 when Steinbrenner fired Yogi as Yankee manager 16 games into the 1985 season after a 6-10 start and replaced him with Billy Martin. Steinbrenner had broken his word, promising Yogi he would not be fired if he returned for the 1985 season. With that assurance in mind, Yogi signed on for another year managing the Yankees for the tumultuous, unpredictable Steinbrenner. Yogi was coming off a 87-75 season as Yankee skipper in 1984 and left he deserved at least another year at the Yankee helm.
What irked Yogi was not that he was fired. As a baseball lifer, Yogi was well aware that of the old baseball adage that “managers are hired to be fired.” He had seen it many times in his long career. After all, even legendary manager Casey Stengel had been let go after leading the Yankees to ten World Championships in twelve years. Yogi had even experienced getting the old “pink slip” himself after taking the Yankees to a Game Seven defeat at the hands of Bob Gibson in the 1964 World Series. And it happened again in 1973, after a pennant with the Mets.
And it wasn’t just that Steinbrenner had broken his word, as offensive to Yogi’s sense of honor as it was. No, it was also it was the way in which it was carried out. Steinbrenner didn’t have the decency to show Yogi the respect due him as one of the Yankees’ all-time greats. Yogi thought Steinbrenner should be man enough to deliver the news himself. Instead he sent his GM give him the axe. To Yogi, that was indefensible.
Yogi’s pride was wounded, and he would not soon forget. He vowed never to return to Yankee stadium as long as “that guy” was still around. And he remained true to his word, not appearing at Yankee Stadium for any official functions, rejecting over the years any talk of reconciliation from his wife and family and friends.
But it all came to an emotional end at the opening of the Yogi Berra Museum at Montclaire State University on January 5, 1999. Steinbrenner flew in from Florida and met for 15 minutes with Yogi and his wife, Carmen. A contrite Steinbrenner apologized and admitted his mistake, adding:
“I didn’t realize how much I’d screwed up…It was a monumental mistake on my part. Sometimes, it takes a long time to get things right. Yogi is a highly principled man. I messed up. It was the worst mistake I made in baseball”
And you’ve gotta love Yogi’s response:
“George, I forgive you. Don’t worry about it…I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my baseball career too.”
And just like that, the famous feud – one that all baseball fans hoped would someday end – was over. Yogi then gave Steinbrenner a 45-minute tour of the museum. A much-relieved Steinbrenner later said he was impressed with the items on display, including many Yankee uniforms, bats, photos, and artefacts. The museum also displayed the mitt Yogi used to catch Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Speaking of which…
And now we come to the “story-book” ending. Fast forward to July 18, 1999. It’s “Yogi Berra Day,” at Yankee stadium, as the Yankees officially welcome Yogi back into the fold. As part of the day’s festivities to honor the Yankee legend, former Yankees’ pitcher Don Larsen was also invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch – to catcher Yogi Berra! The two battery mates reenacted Larsen’s Perfect Game in the 1956 World Series. And no, Yogi did not jump into Larson’s arms!
But talk about a “story-book” ending! What a way to celebrate the end of the feud on “Yogi Berra Day!” It couldn’t have been scripted any better, as the “baseball gods” were definitely smiling that day. David Cone took the mount for the Yankees and proceeded to throw the 16th Perfect Game in baseball history, with Yogi Berra and Don Larson in attendance! The famed “Berra Luck” was on display for all to see once again!
The feud was over…George and Yogi had reconciled…and just to seal the beauty of the occasion, David Cone pitched a Perfect Game. All was well in the world of baseball!
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Information: Excerpts edited from the Yogi Berra Wikipedia page; and from article on the Berra-Steinbrenner feud, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/berra-steinbrenner-feud-is-over/