There have been many books written about and by Yogi Berra. What makes this one different?
The previous books about Berra, or those authored by him, have focused almost solely on his storied career, or on the quirkiness of his personality, his famous "Yogi-isms." This book captures him as never before and in doing so characterizes him as far more multidimensional. In this flung-open window into Berra's octogenarian life, and his incredibly heartwarming relationship with Ron Guidry, he occasionally is stubborn, cranky, vulnerable and ultimately endearing--in the manner of most aging folks we know. This is as real as Yogi Berra gets.
How did the book come about?
First, our beloved 14-year-old black Labrador died. Then our friends, the Kaplans, took us out for dinner. Dave Kaplan is the longtime director of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center. I mentioned that I was going down to spring training the following week and wondered if and when Yogi would be there. Knowing that he had recently had some health issues, I asked if Yogi's wife Carmen always stays with him in Tampa. Dave said, "Actually, Carmen usually only goes down for a few days. Believe it or not, Ron Guidry looks after Yogi. He’s been doing it for years." Later that night, a light went on in my head. Might be a story there, I thought. It wound up on page one of the New York Times and the response to it was overwhelming. Fifteen hundred words hardly did it justice. Hence, we now have 70,000.
How did you arrive at the title Driving Mr. Yogi?
Just to be playful, Joni Bronander, who works for the Berras at their museum, made a cap for Guidry with the inscription "Driving Mr. Yogi," playing off the Driving Miss Daisy film. She also had one made for Yogi that says: "Driven by Gator." The title seemed like a natural fit from the beginning, although as I worked through the story I began to realize that "Driving Mr. Yogi" was something of a double entendre. It developed a far deeper meaning than I originally realized.
As much as this is about generational loyalty and commitment, about honoring everything that has come before, it is also an examination of a man who refuses to surrender to human frailty. And while Yogi Berra may be a household name of historic proportion, he is also really an Everyman, much like our grandfathers and grandmothers and parents, who clings to his identity however he can because it makes him feel not only happy, but vital and alive. Like Guidry, we all have such people in our lives--be it by blood relation or otherwise--who deserve our love and assistance in their struggle to not be pushed into a geriatric corner and left there.
Why is Yogi Berra so beloved?
I think there are obvious reasons--great team ballplayer, ten-time World Series champion, humble yet confident, not physically imposing, approachable, and a grown man nicknamed Yogi. At the same time, Berra has been a celebrity for many decades now, used to having people wait on him--or wanting something from him--and in that regard he can occasionally be demanding, though not in the sense that he wants material things given to him. But he does expect to be driven to the ballpark on a certain day, at a very specific time, and so on. As I came to understand it, those who cater to Berra see him as the most unpretentious famous person in the history of celebrity. They revel in being inside his circle because they plainly see that status has nothing to do with it. It’s not about how important you are; it’s about how real a friend you are.
Photographs from Driving Mr. Yogi
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