May 122021
 

Today is the birthday (1925) of Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, a legendary baseball catcher, who later took on the roles of manager and coach. He got his nickname when a friend, Jack Maguire, supposedly noticed a resemblance between him and some “yogi,” that is, a person who practiced yoga onscreen. Seems a bit farfetched to me, but that is the story that circulates.  It is also said that he contemplated suing Hanna-Barbera when they came out with the Yogi Bear character in 1958, but dropped the idea after the company claimed the similarity was simply a coincidence. Seems like a stretch to me. It should also be noted that when Berra died in 2015 the original AP obituary copy said that Yogi Bear had died, and AP did not correct the error before a few outlets had printed the mistaken copy.

Berra played 19 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) (1946–1963, 1965), all but the last for the New York Yankees. He was an 18-time All-Star and won 10 World Series championships as a player—more than any other player in MLB history. Berra had a career batting average of .285, while hitting 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in. He is one of only six players to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Berra was a native of the Hill, an Italian immigrant neighborhood in St. Louis, and signed with the Yankees in 1943 before serving in the United States Navy as a gunner’s mate in the Normandy landings during World War II, where he earned a Purple Heart. He made his major-league debut at age 21 in 1946 and was a mainstay in the Yankees’ lineup during the team’s championship years beginning in 1949 and continuing through 1962. Despite his short stature (5 feet 7 inches [1.70 m]), Berra was a power hitter and strong defensive catcher. Berra played 18 seasons with the Yankees before retiring after the 1963 season. He spent the next year as their manager, then joined the New York Mets in 1965 as coach (and briefly a player again). Berra remained with the Mets for the next decade, serving the last four years as their manager. He returned to the Yankees in 1976, coaching them for eight seasons and managing for two, before coaching the Houston Astros. He was one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series. Berra appeared as a player, coach or manager in every one of the 13 World Series that New York baseball teams won from 1947 through 1981. Overall, he played or coached in 21 World Series, 13 on the winning side. Berra caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series (leading to the iconic photo below). He also holds the all-time record for shutouts caught, with 173.

The Yankees retired his uniform number 8 in 1972; Bill Dickey had previously worn number 8, and both catchers had that number retired by the Yankees. The club honored him with a plaque in Monument Park in 1988. Berra was named to the MLB All-Century Team in a vote by fans in 1999. For the remainder of his life, he was closely involved with the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, which he opened on the campus of Montclair State University in 1998.

Berra quit school after the eighth grade, and has always been known for his malapropisms as well as pithy and paradoxical statements, such as “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” At the time he said this, in July 1973, Berra’s Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9½ games in the National League East. The Mets rallied to clinch the division title in their second-to-last game of the regular season, and eventually reached the World Series. In this context the saying is actually less apt than in an actual game of baseball where the losing side can theoretically make up a deficit in runs, even if it seems impossible, before the game ends.  This is because baseball is measured in outs not by a clock, so that, until the last out is recorded anything can happen.  For example, on June 8, 1989 the Phillies pulled off a memorable comeback win against the Pirates. The Pirates jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the top of the first, prompting announcer Jim Rooker to tell his audience that if the club didn’t win, he would walk back to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for Rooker, the Phillies, who were having a terrible season, chipped away, pulled to within 11-10 in the sixth, then scored five in the bottom of the eighth to pull off a 15-11 win. Rooker didn’t actually do his cross-state walk that night, but he did make the trip after the season, raising money for charity.

Berra said on several occasions, “I really didn’t say everything I said” which we can all understand as meaning, “not all statements attributed to me are things I actually said” – and which is certainly true.  But . . . as far as I can tell, the following Yogi-isms were things he actually said:

“If you see the fork in the road, take it” Yogi’s explanation was, “It doesn’t matter whether you go left or right at that point because you will wind up at my house either way.” He was giving directions to Joe Garagiola Sr. to his New Jersey home, and it was accessible by two routes.

“It’s déjà vu all over again.” Berra explained that this quote originated when he witnessed Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hitting back-to-back home runs in the Yankees’ seasons in the early 1960s.

“You can observe a lot by watching.”

On why he no longer went to Rigazzi’s, a St. Louis restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” This one makes sense to me when paraphrased: “No one that I know goes there . . .”

“Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.”

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

“If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”

“Ninety percent of the game is half mental.” This one almost makes sense to me.  Does that mean Yogi’s logic is rubbing off on me?????

Berra’s parents were from Lombardy which means that it is little surprise that he liked tripe, and claimed that tripe salad was his favorite dish. Well, there’s bit of Yogi mixed in here – as well as my justification for this post as a certified tripe afficionado.  Lombardy is not noted for cold tripe dishes, but it does have some famous ones including trippa alla milanese or busecca, and trippa alla lombarda.  You have to head farther south for tripe salad, the most noted being the Sicilian trippa all’insalata (in standard Italian) or trippa a’nzalata (in Sicilian dialect). This recipe assumes that you are starting with the bleached, parboiled tripe you typically get in US and UK stores.

Trippa a’nzalata

Ingredients

2 lb. tripe

For cooking

1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
½ onion
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 stalk of celery, cut in 3 pieces
1 carrot, cut in big pieces
skin of ½ lemon
springs of fresh parsley

For serving

juice of 2 medium lemons
1 red onion finely sliced
1 celery heart cut into small pieces
2 small baby carrots finely sliced
5 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley

Instructions

Cut the tripe in strips, about 1 ½ by ½ inch and place in a pot with an abundant amount of lightly salted water with the bay leaf, clove, whole onion, garlic cloves, celery, carrot, few springs of fresh parsley, the lemon skin and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 25 minutes. Check to see if it is cooked to your liking.  This is a crucial step. The tripe needs to be al dente and this stage cannot be achieved with even a rough estimate of cooking time.  It all depends on the quality of the tripe, cooking temperature, humidity, and a host of other variables.  Taste, taste, taste is the only option.

Drain the pot using a colander and discard the bay leaves, cloves, lemon skin, onion, garlic, celery, carrot and parsley springs. Let the tripe cook to room temperature.

Blend the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl mix together the cooled tripe, the finely sliced red onion, celery and carrots, and the vinaigrette. Garnish with some freshly chopped parsley and serve with fresh crusty bread.

Yogi said that he drank cold water with the salad.