Whitey and Yogi: A Baseball Tale for Our Times

The baseball season sneaked up on me this year. Yesterday it was January, today we’re deep into spring training—it caught me totally unawares. Can’t imagine why. It’s not as if anything else of importance has been in the news lately . . .

The summers of my youth basically meant one thing: Little League baseball. Sure, we hung out at the neighborhood pool and took vacations to the ocean, but it was baseball that absorbed my time and attention. When not playing or practicing, I was collecting baseball cards and learning the basics of math by studying the statistics on the back. And when my athletic prowess peaked at around age twelve or thirteen and I realized I’d never get to play third base for the San Francisco (previously New York) Giants, I threw myself even more into studying the game, arguing about who the greatest player was (Willie Mays), and creating dream teams from the information on the cards (Willie always in center field).

As the less-than-pristine side of professional baseball began to reveal itself—the steroid scandal being the saddest example—my enthusiasm for the sport waned. Growing older and changing priorities probably had something to do with it as well. Yes, my son and I would take in a game once or twice a year, but something had been lost. It wasn’t quite the same.

But then an article in the Dallas Morning News last month reminded me, when I most needed it, why I still love the game. Titled “10 to Remember,” it chronicles the exploits and achievements of ten Baseball Hall of Famers who passed away during the previous year. The author, Dale Petroskey, referenced a dinner he attended some years previously at which he was seated with seven former superstars of the game, several of whom are now among those ten deceased Hall of Famers. Included at the table were Whitey Ford, the great Yankees ace of the ’50s and ’60s, and the man who caught Whitey’s games season after season, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra.

One of the other players present suggested that they go around the table and share the one thing they believe was most contributive to their acceptance into the Hall of Fame. What more than anything else made it possible for them to receive Major League Baseball’s highest honor? Each took his turn referencing a particular skill or talent or discipline until it came to Whitey, who didn’t say a word at first. Then, as Petroskey explains: “His eyes moistened and he pointed across the table at Yogi, and said: ‘That guy right there. He’s the only reason I’m here. Smartest catcher in baseball. He caught me for 14 seasons, and I never shook him off once. If he called for a pitch, that’s the pitch I threw. He gave me a target, and I tried to make the best pitch I could and hit his mitt.'”

Whitey Ford, one of the most lauded pitchers in baseball, when given the chance to tout his own accomplishments instead gave full credit for his success to his catcher, Yogi Berra. It brought tears to the others’ eyes, added Petroskey, as it does to mine now.

Gotta love the game.