- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The first call Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson would receive after invitations for induction weekend had been extended to previous honorees always came from Yogi Berra.

“Hey, I’m coming,” Yogi would tell Idelson. “Can we come early and stay an extra night so Carmen and I could come enjoy the town and the museums?”

Could he stay an extra night? Berra could do whatever he wanted in Cooperstown, where on the weekend when the greatest ballplayers in the history of the game would gather, he was the star.

“He loved being in Cooperstown,” Idelson said. “He was the King of Cooperstown when he was here.”

The King of Cooperstown died Tuesday at the age of 90, and while his subjects at Hall of Fame weekend — greats like Johnny Bench and Cal Ripken Jr. — knew how great a ballplayer he was, it was as if the whole world suddenly realized that this beloved figure was one of the greatest ballplayers of his time.

When people searched Berra’s name upon the news of his passing, they saw that the guy who gained fame and fortune for his humorous observations — the small, friendly looking man who appeared in Aflac commercials — was a three-time American League MVP during his 18-year career with the New York Yankees from 1946 to 1963 and was one of just five American Leaguers to have done so. He never finished lower than fourth in MVP voting from 1950 to 1957, and received MVP votes in 15 consecutive seasons, tied with Barry Bonds and second only to Hank Aaron’s 19 consecutive seasons with MVP votes.

Berra was named to the all-star team 18 times. He played on 14 pennant-winning teams and 10 World Championship teams — more than any player in the history of the game. He hit 358 career home runs and drove in 1,430 runs.

On teams with Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Berra led the Yankees in RBI in seven consecutive seasons.

It goes on and on. He had more home runs than strikeouts in five seasons and in 75 World Series games, when he struck out just 17 times. He was considered the toughest out in a star-studded Yankees lineup. He was an outstanding catcher as well, leading the league eight times in games caught, eight times in putouts and three times in assists, while handling the great Yankees pitching staff. He was one of manager Casey Stengel’s favorite players, his manager on the field, and Stengel once declared, “I never played a game without my man.” Berra managed the 1964 Yankees and the 1973 New York Mets to pennants.

What does it say about a man who accomplished so much on the field, yet was recognized for his personality and his heart?

Yogi was a not just a Hall of Famer, he was a very special guy,” Ripken said. “When Yogi spoke, everyone was quiet and hung on every word. He owned the room. He was a legendary figure and will be missed by all of us baseball fans.”

He will be missed by Idelson, whose job it is as president of the Hall of Fame to make arrangements every year for Hall of Famers and their families who planned to travel to Cooperstown.

“He was the guy that every year would bring a lot of family with him,” Idelson said. “He was very much a family man. He was married to Carmen for 65 years, and every year would bring family with him to share the weekend.

“First and foremost, in addition to being a Hall of Fame player, he was a fan, and he was a fan of the other Hall of Famers, the players, the executives, and would love to talk baseball all the time with them,” Idelson said. “He was a guy, like Ted Williams and Stan Musial, that other Hall of Famers would gravitate towards to hear his stories.

“He was always the first up in the morning and the last to go to bed, because he didn’t want to miss anything,” Idelson said. “He was a guy who just enjoyed being in the lobby of the [Otesaga] Hotel and holding court and interacting with the fans. He was a special guy with the public because he embraced them as well as they embraced him.”

Of course, Idelson has his own Berra type of story. “He was always an early riser,” he said. “So, one day during induction weekend, I go over to the Otesaga Hotel about 7 in the morning, walk out on the veranda, and there is Yogi, having a cup of coffee, looking out over the lake, sitting in one of the famous rocking chairs there.

“We talk for a while, and he turns to me and asks, ‘How come it always seems to rain sometime on Hall of Fame weekend?’ I say, ‘Yogi, we are at the base of Otsego Lake, which is a nine-mile-long lake. We are in between two mountain ranges, the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and in this region of central New York, it is not unusual to have showers pass through from time to time.’

“He just sort of nods, drinks his coffee, and asks, ‘Why don’t you move Hall of Fame weekend to another weekend, when it doesn’t rain?’

“How do you respond to that?” Idelson said “That’s Yogi.”

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.


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