LITTLE FALLS, N.J. (AP) — Dale Berra remembered when he was playing for the New York Yankees and his father was fired as manager of the team. It was 1985 and such things happened a lot in those days.
Yogi Berra was dismissed with the season all of 16 games old after an April loss to the Chicago White Sox. The players were incensed: Don Baylor turned over garbage cans; Don Mattingly turned over the table spread with food.
Dale Berra was recalling that day during a news conference Thursday at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University. He was speaking two days after his father died at 90.
“Instead of taking a cab and going off on his own, Dad wanted to take the team bus and sat in the manager’s seat for the last time,” the son said. “The bus drove him to the terminal at the airport and as he got off the bus, the players all applauded. He then stood holding his bag at the terminal and waved goodbye.”
Yogi Berra’s three sons — Larry, Tim and Dale — and granddaughter Lindsay, a sports writer for MLB.com who spearheaded an effort to get her grandfather the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year, all gathered to reminisce over one of the most beloved figures in all sports.
“He was such a normal, regular guy to the people he met,” Dale Berra said. “I think because he grew up with immigrant parents during the Depression and had to go to work when he was in eighth grade, I think that made him humble.”
“I think it makes him unique,” said Berra’s eldest son, Larry, who said in no part did he want to be known as Yogi Jr. “He never wanted to make anyone upset with him. If someone wanted to take a picture with him or get an autograph, that was fine.”
Yogi Berra, a Hall of Famer and three-time American League MVP, played on 10 Yankees teams that won the World Series. He was an 18-time All-Star. He was the only man to manage the Yankees and the Mets in the World Series.
“He was humble, yet confident all at the same time,” Dale Berra said. “What you saw is what you got. He talked to everyone. That’s just the way he was. He was a wonderful guy.”
Dale Berra was traded to the Yankees by the Pittsburgh Pirates, getting a brief chance to play for his father.
“We had a meeting the first day and I had a question to ask him,” Dale Berra said. “I called him ‘Skip.’ Well, almost before I could get the word out of my mouth, Ron Guidry said to me, ‘He’s not Skip. He’s your Dad.’ From that point on, our relationship on the team was father and son, but I called him Dad.”
Larry Berra said he moved back in with his parents in the family home in Montclair after separating from his wife.
“He would be like, ‘So, are we going to watch ‘Seinfeld’ tonight?’” Larry Berra said. “I ended up living there for 14 years. I remember telling my mother that I had to move out. She said, ‘Your father will be devastated. He’d have no one to watch television with.’ I said, ‘Mom, I’m 56 years old.’ It was really something.”
Tim Berra was a standout wide receiver at the University of Massachusetts and had a brief stint in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts. He says he’ll always remember the way his father treated others.
“People felt comfortable with him, laughed with him,” Tim Berra said. “Dad had a great way of relating to everyone. Sure, he was this iconic great baseball player, but to me, he was Dad. He was a buddy of mine. I wanted to be like him, a sensitive guy with an air of confidence and friendliness.”
Lindsay Berra noted that Tuesday was Carmen Berra’s birthday. Yogi Berra’s wife died last year after a stroke.
“Grandpa wanted to spend her birthday with her,” Lindsay Berra said.
Her quest to get the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her grandfather will not die with him. Yogi Berra served on a gunboat supporting the D-Day invasion in 1944.
“We did get enough signatures on the petition and we did get word from the president’s office that he had enough support,” she said. “But we don’t need to see the medal to know what he meant to all of us. As nice as it would be to get it, it’s a little bittersweet now. ... We really tried to make it happen while he was here.”
Funeral arrangements for Berra are private. The Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, however, is planning a public memorial Oct. 1.
Outside the museum, next to his statue, there were pictures, flowers and baseballs. One balloon read, “Yogi, you’re the best, No. 8 is No. 1.”
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