Jim Leyland remembers idol turned friend Yogi Berra

Jim Leyland can let out a good cry, as some of his postseason celebrations showed. But sometimes in the moments of greatest sorrow, he doesn’t want to. When it comes to remembering the late Yogi Berra, who passed away early Wednesday morning at age 90, he’d rather celebrate a life.

“It’s a tough loss,” Leyland said, “but I think about the great times that I had with Yogi, and the most unbelievable thing that I got to know him. He was my childhood hero, and not only did I get to know him, but we became pretty good friends.

“I thought that was a helluva thing that worked out. When I was a kid and bought my first Yogi Berra catching mitt, I never imagined we’d be friends.”

It was an unlikely friendship, a Hall of Fame catcher who will go down as one of the greatest Yankees of all time, and a manager who never played in the big leagues. But once they met during Leyland’s early coaching days, they not only stayed in touch for 30 years, they made a point to visit each other.

Early on in Leyland’s career, they’d talk about managing, Berra recalling his days in charge of the Mets and Yankees, Leyland getting a grasp of managing in the big leagues. But they’d also talk about life, and trade jokes and stories, and share laughs.

“He gave me a lot of advice over the years,” Leyland said. “He didn’t come out and say you’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta do that. He talked about handling players, the way baseball’s gonna change. He talked about his experiences, the way he did things. And then you put it in your own personality. It was a treat.”

Leyland heard the Yogisms, sure, and he laughed. But he also heard his hero talking about what made him great, an All-Star every year from 1948 to 1962, a three-time AL MVP, a 14-time World Series participant and 10-time champion. And Leyland took it to heart.

“He really in some ways gave hope to all little guys,” Leyland said. “He wasn’t a very big guy. I loved him because I used to ask him questions like, ‘Why you were such a great hitter? What was your philosophy? And he said, ‘I looked for the ball and if I thought I could hit it, I’d swing at it.’ I just appreciated his straightforward approach to the game, nothing too tricky. …

“I think people also have that image of him being a character and the Yogisms and everything, and that’s part of it. But there’s so much more than that. I knew there was so much more there than that. There was a great substance to Yogi, a bright mind talking about baseball, experiences and such.”

And through it all, they bonded.

“When I got to know him, he treated me like I’d been a big-leaguer all my life, like you’d treat a teammate, and I couldn’t get over that,” Leyland said. “He was a left-handed hitting hall of fame catcher, and I was a right-handed hitting, can’t-hit-nothing catcher. I met a lot of great people in baseball, and Yogi was right up there.”

Every time the Tigers headed to New York during Leyland’s time, he’d have a visitor in his office, usually before the first game of the series. That was Yogi. Later, he invited Leyland to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in New Jersey for dinner. Leyland went back a couple years ago to join Tony La Russa, Joe Girardi and others for a managerial roundtable.

But if there’s one favorite memory of Yogi that sticks with Leyland, it’s from October. It wasn’t Yogi’s postseason, but Leyland’s. When the Tigers had to go back to Yankee Stadium for a winner-take-all Game 5 in the 2011 AL Division Series, having lost a potential clinching Game 4 in Detroit, Yogi was there to see it, just like another series.

“‘May the best team win, kid,’” Leyland remembers him saying. “He congratulated me after that, too. I’ll never forget it.”

33 Comments

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Berra, Maris, Gerhig , Granderson. the few Yankees you could root for

I was fortunate enough to see Yogi take one AB. He pinch hit in the 9th inning at Tiger Stadium in June of 1963. Hit couple of hard fouls then K’d for the final out.
The next year I was lucky enough to have seats over the Yankee dugout when Yogi was the manager.
“When Gods walked the earth”

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Good story about good men. Yogi was more than just a baseball guy.

Nice to read a positive story . A real baseball legend is gone but not forgotten.

I met Yogi, Billy Martin, and Steinbrenner at the Bay Harbor Inn in 1978 in Tampa. They were sitting in the restaurant, and i walked over, introduced myself, and Yogi signed a knapkin for me; the only thing I had. Needless to say, that knapkin was lost in 4 different moves that ended up in Roanoke, Va. He was as common as dirt. Today’s players don’t achieve that aura of respect and down right decency that Yogi’s generation achieved and actually earned. We have Mr. Kaline left, but sad to say,those that represented Yogi’s era of America’s past time are almost gone.

“You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.” ElT, Yogiism or someone else? Very very funny.

A Yogiism

Good story Greg. You have guts. I would have been too timid to approach a trio like that.

Let’s win 10 in a row and finish the season at .500

How about we finish the job we started at the deadline and qualify for a protected draft pick……….:)

Failed emoticon. Oh the humanity.

Rich, we started that job back on April 20.

Dan, I left some info regarding your questions on the last post.

Watching the Royals 9th inning. Nice to see the fans having fun. Wish it were our Tigers.

“What’s a little bit shocking is that after I got fired, my agent called three other organizations and never even got a call back.’’
Yes, he’s talking about you: Washington, Detroit and Seattle.
Two years later, those three same teams may be looking for managers, with Matt Williams, Brad Ausmus and Lloyd McClendon all on the hot seat with their teams badly underachieving and missing the postseason this year.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2015/09/24/blackballed-ozzie-guillen-dusty-baker-manager/72749136/

Always a fan of Baker even is he mishandled the pitching staff with the Reds. Guillén is like The Special One of MLB. he runs his mouth to attract the attention off his players lowering the pressure. I not worried about that. But from his in-game comments , I think that contrary to his words , he is still old school . The kind of old school Tigers fans tend to like, the wrong one, the bunting and hit and run old school.

I’ve commented a few times before about Baker and Ozzie and how well they would fit with Detroit. I still feel the same way.

In a current article, Zuniga called Wilson the most reliable reliever for the Tigers and I agree. During the course of the season I have repeatedly said I like him, but I really don’t see him as a closer as Zuniga said Wilson strives to be.

I agree with that too Darline. Then again, the guy has seemingly responded positively to every role thrust upon him this season.
To me a closer has to have a fearsome and dominating quality. you want to have every batter he faces very uncomfortable in the batters’ box.
As to Rondon. I don’t see the guy changing much. He seems to have the persona that feels he is “entitled” and that may, at least in part, be the fault of the front office in the way they have handled him from the time (actually before the time) they brought him up.

a couple of good things could come from the Rondon fiasco…it does more or less force the Tigers to go out and get a closer this offseason rather than use Rondon as the de facto fallback option…maybe it’s also a turning point for him professionally, if nothing else, Rondon’s agent should be in his ear about at least doing what he needs to do to get paid.

That would be the best case scenario, at least for Rondon. I don’t have confidence in the guy but what you say is something I felt for two years now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a change occur as to his agent.
There was reference to an audio interview in a previous post. I am listening to it now: http://detroitsports1051.com/episodes/nick-castellanos-joins-the-diesel-4/

Ausmus basically wasn’t willing to talk much on the record about the Rondon situation, but his teammates were which makes for an interesting dynamic…as if the clubhouse turned on Rondon.

2nd player who teammates have questioned effort…McCann calling out Iglesias earlier. maybe the strain of a losing season just brings these problems to the surface.

I hate that that happened. Publicly trying to make someone else look bad while they have made many mistakes of their own.

as the Tigers did, Red Sox promoted their assistant GM to GM position

A little difference, the new Boston GM will be an assistant to the President. Not a true GM.

When you thinng you have seen everything: Madison Bumgarner vs Joe West , “The Stare”

think

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Would rather see Moya in there but do understand that the Tigers have some repsonibility to play their veterans against a wild card contender. Imagine that, the Tigers out and the Twins contending!

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