Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Favorite Yogi Berra Story

We learned this morning that Baseball Hall of Fame Member Yogi Berra passed away at age 90.  And while living to 90 is great in anyone's book, Yogi Berra's passing will make so many people sad today because he was a truly great person who make you feel better just knowing him.  The kid who grew up in the shadows of the St. Louis Cardinals, became of the iconic members of great New York Yankee teams in the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.  He was an active player on 10 World Championship teams (all with the Yankees) and would also coach on three others (the 1969 Mets and two Yankee teams).  And while you would never say that he was as good a ball player as the Yankee greats Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle, none of them (I suspect) could hold a candle to Yogi's warmth and charm as a person.

Scenes from The Otesaga Hotel for Hall of Fame Weekend (Cooperstown, NY)
Looking so young at Hall of Fame Weekend in 2009 - my last year on the Hospitality Crew
From 1996 to 1998, I was fortunate to work at the National Baseball Library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  I was the head of technical services for the library, managing the development of the ABNER online catalog and also building the archival collection.  It was a great two years that I will always treasure.  The big event at the Baseball Hall of Fame was the the induction of new members of the Hall.  This takes place at the end of July and involves all people who work at the Hall to take on a new responsibility for that weekend.  As someone who was good with databases and computers, I was assigned to the Hospitality Suite at the Otesaga Hotel.  This is the beautiful resort hotel in town that serves as the headquarters for the Induction Weekend events.

Scenes from The Otesaga Hotel for Hall of Fame Weekend (Cooperstown, NY)
Otesaga Hotel over Hall of Fame Weekend, 2009
Working on the Hospitality team was great.  We were right in the middle of the activity and we had the ability to interact with the special guests and Hall of Famers.  However, even in the time before selfies - we were very careful never to ask for autographs (it was against Hall rules - you would be fired), or pictures, or really anything.  We were there to serve.  The role of the Hospitality Desk changed just before I got there - and the focus was places squarely on our role and purpose to make things right.  To this day, a great deal of what I believe in running a library comes directly from my time on the Hospitality Desk.  Though I left the Hall in 1998 to move to Michigan, I came back to work Hall of Fame Weekend every year from 1999 to 2009.  Those were wonderful years.

My favorite Yogi story....actually, I am pretty proud of myself for this.  I remember one of the crew shaking he head early one morning after he ran into Yogi who asked him when the 7am breakfast was going to take place.  We all had those moments.  He was genuine and lovable.  He was always nice and pleasant to the Baseball Hall staff - especially the Hospitality crew.  But more than that, he was one of the most recognizable Hall of Fame members alive.  Through all his television and commercial work, practically no one there would not recognize him immediately.

I believe it was during the 1998 Induction, that Yogi Berra won an award from the Hall of Fame Classic, the golf tournament that takes place the morning of Hall of Fame Induction day.  You win overall awards for lowest score (typically by age bracket) and there are clubs that are given for a few different "closest to the pin" holes.  He had one one of them.  The members were told that they should come to the Hospitality Desk and pickup there prize.  I was working at the desk and was feeling a bit punchy when he came up.  He said hello and that he won a golf club.  I got up and went back to where they were, pulling the one that said Yogi.  I came up and noticed that he did not have his name badge on.  Not sure why I said this - but it was worth it.  In a very serious way, I said something to the effect that "Sir, this golf club is for Yogi Berra.  But I do not see your name tag, do you have any identification I could see?"  He looked at me with a dumbfounded look on his face.  He could not believe anyone did not know who he was.  He did not have any ID, but everyone knows Yogi! After a few seconds of fumbling around looking for something, I said that I could give it to him, but I hope my manager does not yell at me.  He smiled at me and took his club away.  I am pretty sure he knew I was joking.  

I am not sure that would have worked for any other Hall of Famer.  He was famous, yet always had a modesty about him that made him a pleasure to be with.    Rest in Peace Yogi. Thanks for all the memories and the love you shared for this great game of baseball.