VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – One of the cool things about being an elder statesman (i.e. old coot) in the sports columnist/ TV announcer biz is that, over time, you get to conduct a ton of interviews with prominent figures in the toy department of life.
And accumulate a lot of neat experiences.
So many that they often slip your mind.
Countless times, MAS has been watching TV and up pops a celeb jock, past or present, that he suddenly remembers interviewing.
At that point it really hits MAS, a true sports lover, just how lucky he is.
If MAS was your average adult fan (nothing wrong with that), he’d likely have crossed paths with maybe one or two famous luminaries of the field, court, ring or ice in his lifetime.
And probably at an autograph signing where he had to shell out beaucoup bucks and/or wait in a line a mile long.
Fortunately, most of his interview remembrances are good ones.
Oh, there was the occasional John Thompson, the former Georgetown hoops coach or ex-Minnesota Twins skipper Tom Kelly, each of whom MAS found to be, shall we say, less than rational individuals.
But over the years MAS has found that if he didn’t act like a jerk and asked sensible questions, most jocks and coaches were, at the very least, decent people when interviewed.
A few were SO nice they left an even more indelible impression than the others, pleasant though they were.
One of these special individuals was the late Yogi Berra, the legendary New York Yankees great who passed away recently at the age of 90.
MAS had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Berra as a fledgling TV sports announcer in Hawaii (more on this interaction later).
When Yogi was still with us, seeing him in the news or on the tube made for a pleasant recall.
But on the occasion of Berra’s passing, it prompted a bittersweet recollection.
When a famous sports person leaves us there are usually a whole bunch of platitudes accorded him or her.
In most cases, they are well-deserved.
All of us, despite our shortcomings and mistakes in life, possess at least some good qualities worth recounting.
Any bad points are usually ignored, at least momentarily, out of respect for the recently departed.
However, the outpouring of love, respect and admiration for Berra, to MAS’s mind, reached a rarely matched level.
And, boy, was it ever well-deserved.
Former Yankee Don Mattingly, who as current skipper of the Los Angeles Dodgers has worn Berra’s No. 8 in his honor for several years now, said it best: “You’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about Yogi.”
Once in awhile, a person is so beyond reproach that this will be said about them.
Such a special person was Berra.
How can MAS know for sure, since his meeting with Yogi lasted only 20 minutes and took place 30 years ago?
If one is adept enough at reading people and has ample experience doing so, MAS believes it possible to render such a judgement.
Here’s how it all went down at the Makaha golf course on the island of Oahu, where Berra — a 10-time World Series champ and 18 times an American League All-Star as a Yankees backstop in the mid-20th century — was participating in a celebrity golf tournament.
MAS caught up with Berra outside the golf club’s grand clubhouse.
He immediately sensed a regular guy bearing in on Yogi when Berra offered in his inimitable, slightly gravelly voice: “Dis is a priddy posh place!”
“You evah play heah?”
“Not on my salary,” MAS replied, drawing a chortle from Yogi.
We then strolled over to the putting green, exchanging light banter and then held the interview there.
Yogi couldn’t have been more forthright on everything New York Yankees past and present (which at the time were the turbulent Steinbrenner years).
Or more thoughtful in his replies.
During our on-camera chat, Yogi inserted “David” into his answers numerous times. It’s an old PR tactic that savvy interviewees pick up and use.
Inserting the name of the reporter personalizes the interview in such a way that the person answering the questions comes off as personable and more likeable.
It also shows politeness and respect for the questioner — not to mention making the interviewer feel like a million bucks.
MAS’ first inclination was to think that Berra’s actions were just that — a PR ploy.
By then, he had seen all forms of phony facades — red light nice guys (who are friendly only when the camera comes on), smoke blowers, faux jokesters, etc.
Let’s just say MAS has a pretty good built-in BS detector.
But he quickly sensed that, in Yogi’s case, it was the real thing. He was just being himself: thoughtful and classy.
After our chat and a firm handshake, Berra proceeded on to his round of golf.
And MAS was aglow like a nearby fluorescent bug zapper.
To this day, Yogi remains the most genuinely nice famous sports person MAS has ever interviewed.
And this is after working for three decades in Hawaii and Japan, which at the time were regular stop-offs for all the bigname jocks and teams, passing through either on vacation or for regular season or All-Star contests.
Add to that four more years and counting in stadiums and arenas on the U.S. mainland and we’re talking a ton of highprofile MAS interviews.
That’s how big an impression Yogi made.
Unfortunately, Yogi Berra will probably live on in the minds of many younger fans not as the great player and person he was, but as the guy who spewed malapropisms like “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, “It’s deja vu all over again” and “When you come to the fork in the road, take it”.
Some of the sayings attributed to him he never uttered. They were contrived.
But Yogi good-naturedly rolled with the punches and if he was dumb, he was dumb like a fox.
He accepted credit for all of them, his or not, and became a national treasure.
Through it all, he was self-assured enough to know the REAL Yogi Berra and feel, as the current hip saying goes, comfortable in his own skin.
But those who got to know Berra, whether on a long-term basis like Mattingly or through a brief encounter like MAS, today remember a far more substantial Yogi.
Spend 10 minutes with him and he made you feel like you’d known him your whole life.
When you met him, at once, you knew he was the real deal. A salt-of-the-earth guy who treated everyone he met, no matter their lot in life, with the same with respect.
Today, yours truly is a little sadder but still remains a richer Man About Sports for having met Yogi Berra.
We should ALL be more like Yogi was.
Contact Man About Sports at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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