DEAR READER –
Yogi Berra was one of the most well-known athletes in American history. Four decades after he had retired as a baseball player, Berra was still being featured in major TV ads. The Hall of Fame catcher was even quoted by several Presidents of the United States.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to talk to Berra by phone. The interview was set up by one of his son’s, Dale. I was told no more than 20 minutes would be my limit with the legendary Berra.
The day of the scheduled interview I called Dale. Seconds later I had Yogi on the line. A little over 45 minutes later I finished the interview, totally amazed at the knowledge Berra had about hockey.
I found out that Berra was a huge fan of hockey, especially the NHL. And Yogi wasn’t just your casual fan. He knows his hockey and the players involved. His love of the game goes back over eight decades when Berra was growing up in his native St. Louis, MO.
“I never played ice hockey growing up in St. Louis,” recalled Berra, who played on 14 pennant winners and 10 World Series championships with the New York Yankees. “I played street hockey and roller hockey.
“We didn’t have any place to play ice hockey. And if we had, we really didn’t have the money for skates or some of the other hockey equipment needed.
“We had sticks. We used old rolled up magazines as shin guards. And we used wooden pucks. That’s right, wooden pucks. We couldn’t afford a real puck. So we made one.”
Berra followed pro hockey while growing up in St. Louis with the Flyers of the old American Hockey Association.
“I remember the day of a game, I used to take a nap in the afternoon so I could go with my brother to the hockey game that night down at the old St. Louis Arena,” remembered Berra, who played 18 seasons with the Yankees. “One of my favorite players with the Flyers was Eddie Olson.
“I remember he used to take batting practice with the St. Louis Cardinals in the summer.”
Once Berra made it to the majors with the Yankees he instantly became a fan of the New York Rangers.
“I really enjoyed the Rangers,” recalled Berra. “I really liked the old Garden. You were a lot closer to the game on the ice at the old Garden. I used to take all of my kids to Rangers games every chance I got.”
Not only was Berra a fan of the game, he and his wife, Carmen, were hockey parents. That’s right. Yes, they got up at 4:30 in the morning to get their boys to a practice or game.
“Our son, Dale, really like the game and excelled at it. Emile Francis (coach and GM) of the Rangers thought Dale was good enough that he would have given him a tryout.”
Dale didn’t go for a hockey tryout, but he did excel in baseball, eventually played in the Major Leagues.
Berra kept track of the Rangers, as well as the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. But he always had a warm spot in his heart for the Rangers.
“I was really glad to see them finally win the Cup back in 1994,” stated Berra. “Ranger fans really waited a long time for that Cup.”
One rule Berra saw added to the NHL in his lifetime as the shootout.
“I guess the shootout is good,” concluded Berra. “I hear that a lot of the fans like it.”
One might say, using an original Yogism, “the game’s not over now, until it’s over.”
Until Next Time,
(Berra photo from NHL.com)