Tad Walch: Book review: 'Driving Mr. Yogi' reveals how younger star honors Berra, Yankee pride
Yogi Berra's son once said, "My father is the most quoted man in the world, and he never says anything."
Dale Berra didn't mean the legendary New York Yankee catcher, now 85, has nothing worthwhile to say, just that he isn't expansive.
Berra talks in short, meaningful bursts. And often they are magical, even mystical. Harvey Araton has tried to capture that magic, and maybe even provide a mystical message about honoring elders and learning from them in his short, meaningful new book about Berra, "Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry and Baseball's Greatest Gift."
At 61, Guidry, himself a former Yankee superstar, could be Berra's son. As Araton describes how Guidry annually picks up the Hall of Famer at the airport in Florida at the beginning of every spring training and daily drives him to and from the ballpark and dinner, the author sometimes wearies with repeated themes. He could have used space spent on repetitiveness to add a few more tales, but Araton spins enough to make this book a must-read for Yankee fans and a nice companion to the late David Halberstam's 2003 instant classic, "The Teammates," about the tender, ongoing, late-life friendship of former Boston Red Sox greats Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky.
Guidry learns that Berra loves to be needled in the tradition of baseball dugouts and clubhouses, so Araton allows a fair amount of cussing, but despite some blue language, tenderness is the core of "Driving Mr. Yogi."
Guidry protects Berra from more than his own erratic driving. Other Yankees do, too, but some of the youngest Yankees aren't as deferential to a man who "early in his career had been photographed with the dying Babe Ruth and now," sometimes with Guidry's prodding, "was mentoring players in the 21st century."
Some members of the next generation get it, particularly future Hall of Fame relief ace Mariano Rivera, who is fascinated by Berra's principled, 14-year, self-imposed exile from the team and his subsequent reconciliation with George Steinbrenner and return to full status as the Greatest Living Yankee.
Araton describes how Rivera's study of the Berra-Guidry dynamic includes a nuanced lesson. He emulates Guidry's relationship with Berra by protecting Guidry. When the two now play long toss at spring training, the older pitcher's arm tires. So Rivera takes a couple of steps toward Guidry to make it easier on him, to make him look better.
In the book's middle innings, really at its heart, is a fitting Berra-ism, one of few employed by Araton, who wisely knows we don't need another compilation. The tale starts with Berra and former teammate Whitey Ford standing on the field and gazing at Catfish Hunter's name on the scoreboard during a ceremony after Hunter's death. "Boy," Berra says, "I hope I never see my name up there."
Someday we will, but our picture of Berra will be fuller and sweeter because of Ron Guidry's honor and Harvey Araton's book.
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