MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Yogi remembered for kindness, wisdom

Yogi remembered for kindness, wisdom

He hoped Yogi Berra would make him a better catcher. That ended up being the least of it.

"He made me a better man," Craig Biggio remembered.

This is the kind of story you will hear again and again as baseball mourns the passing of one of its greatest players and finest gentlemen.

In the beginning, Yankees fans loved Yogi because he was one of the greatest players ever. He understood the game from every angle.

Later, Yogi would become almost as famous for his funny stories and cryptic wisdom. But the people who knew him best always pointed to other things.

That he was a kind man with a huge heart. Yes, he had amazing insight into the game.

Yogi's 90th birthday celebration

"We'd be sitting there on the bench," Biggio said, "and Yogi would say something that didn't really make a lot of sense."

Here's the punch line.

"An inning later, you were sitting there watching something Yogi had told you was going to happen," Biggio said. "You just didn't understand it at the time."

Berra became Biggio's tutor after joining the Astros' coaching staff in the 1980s just as the youngster was beginning what would be a Hall of Fame career.

They clicked from the beginning. The younger guy asked questions. The older man offered advice on everything from defensive positioning to calling games to hitting.

But those aren't the lessons that endured. The most important lessons, the things he passed onto his own kids, were about being a professional, a true big leaguer. About being a good teammate. About putting winning first.

"I learned so much from that man," Biggio said. "I can look back and see that a lot of what I tried to become can be traced to the lessons I learned from Yogi.

"But more than any of that was just the man he was. He was such a good man, such a kind man. He was one of those people you wanted to please, but you also knew you could learn so much from him."

Yogi enters the Hall

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin learned some of the same lessons early in his career. He would find himself sitting at games or at meals with Yogi when both were with the Yankees. He was mesmerized.

For years afterward, Melvin went out of his way to look up Yogi and "to pick his brain."

"He's one of the great baseball men ever," Melvin said, "and you could just throw out game situations or problems you were having with players. Yogi's advice was based on a basic understanding of baseball and of having spent a lifetime in it."

Yankees
Yogi Berra dies at 90

Yogi's values were about as basic as could be. He thought doing the right thing -- and there's no gray area -- took precedence over everything else.

Did Yogi make people laugh? Yep, plenty of times.

Once when two Yankees coaches, Joe Altobelli and Mike Ferraro, were living with Yogi and Carmen Berra, the three men would drive home together from Yankee Stadium after games.

"Carmen would have some wine and cold cuts for us," Altobelli remembered, "and we'd sit around and talk about the day and catch up on what was happening in the world."

At some point, Ferraro and Altobelli would drift over to the television, turn it on and settle in.

"Only thing is, when Yogi was ready for bed, he'd walk over, turn the television off and say, 'Time to go to bed, boys,'" Altobelli said. "He was looking after us just like he looked after his own sons."

And?

"And Mike and I would head off to bed," Altobelli said. "If Yogi wanted you to go to bed, then you went to bed. We had a game the next day."

When people reflect on Berra's wonderful life, they will begin with him being one of the greatest Yankees who ever lived, with three American League MVP Awards and being an 18-time All-Star and Hall of Famer.

Berra also helped define an era that created millions of baseball fans. He's one of the players who connected generations of fans, those who saw him play and those who heard about him and came to love him -- and his sport -- as well.

Yogi's game-tying homer

Berra was so beloved as both a player and a man that he remained almost as popular at the end of his life as he did at the height of his career.

But to others, those who knew him best, those who played with him and for him and just got to know him, his legacy will be far beyond that.

Yogi will be remembered for his honesty and decency, for being one of those people who made every stranger feel that three minutes spent with him were the best three minutes of his day.

Berra had risen from working-class St. Louis to the highest level of prominence in this country. But he always carried with him the humility of his upbringing and the appreciation that he'd been remarkably blessed.

And Berra was blessed in so many ways. He'd be the first to say that.

But the real blessing flowed to those who came to love Berra and to feel his love and warmth. They will miss him terribly. But Yogi will live forever in their hearts.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.