Rubin: Yogi Berra really did say some of what he said

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

As Yogi Berra once explained, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

But he said a lot of it, and Jack Krasula of Bloomfield Hills heard him.

Berra, who became renowned as a New York Yankee and then beloved as an unintentionally witty mangler of the English language, died Tuesday at 90 in New Jersey.

Raised poor in St. Louis — across the street from the father of WDIV-TV (Channel 4) newscaster Steve Garagiola — he became a one-name-only public figure decades before People magazine, personal brands and 24-hour cable television channels made that a cheap distinction.

It’s acknowledged that much of what he ostensibly declared and did, he probably didn’t.

Krasula, however, spent enough time with him that he can authenticate some of the classic stories and add a few to the legend.

There was the time, for instance, that Berra’s son Larry left four baseballs on his dad’s kitchen counter with instructions on how to autograph them: one to Jim, one to Frank, two no name.

As Larry told the story, Krasula said, he came back a few weeks later to pick them up and Yogi explained that he had only signed three of the four.

“I didn’t want to sign two to that one guy,” he said, and sure enough, when Larry checked, he found a personalized inscription on the third ball:

“Dear No Name, Best Wishes, Yogi Berra.”

Mrs. Berra chimes in

Krasula, 67, owns an executive employment service in Southfield. He used to work on volunteer fundraising projects with the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and was invited to join the legends for the annual July induction weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Across the decade he spent on golf courses and hotel porches with the greats of the game, he said, he found that Berra’s peers treated him affectionately; the younger Hall of Famers treated him reverentially; and Berra remained unaffected by it all, even when he was the punchline to a story.

One year, Krasula said, Berra’s wife, Carmen, announced, “I’ve got a new one.”

They’d been driving to Cooperstown when she brought up the delicate subject of where they should be buried.

Maybe they belonged in St. Louis near their parents, said Carmen, whose passing in 2014 ended a 65-year union. Then again, they had made their lives in New York and New Jersey since he joined the Yankees in 1946. What did Yogi think?

“Carmen, honey,” he said, “why don’t you just surprise me?”

That one became part of Berra lore. Krasula knows of others that spread only as far as the witnesses could take them.

In a golf scramble with actor Bill Murray and Hall of Famer George Brett, he said, Murray and Berra were debating whether to play Berra’s ball from a left-side sand trap or Krasula’s from a bunker on the right.

“You know, Bill,” Berra finally said, “even if I was playing by myself, I’d hit my own ball.”

Accuracy optional

Garagiola said his father, Joe, would grumble if he saw a story affixed to Berra that he knew couldn’t be true.

“Yogi would say, ‘Why get all excited? Who cares.’ ”

Joe Garagiola, a former major league ballplayer and pioneering broadcaster, spoke to Berra regularly even after he moved to Arizona 30 years ago. A gifted public speaker, Joe Garagiola discovered early on that he could make large groups of people laugh just by saying the word “Yogi.”

“That tells you something about Yogi,” said Steve Garagiola — about his approachability, and the straightforward way he lived.

“Yogi,” he said, “was complex in his simplicity” ... which sounds like a Yogi-ism, but actually captures him perfectly.

Krasula recalled a scene from one Hall of Fame ceremony that saw Berra seated next to pitcher Whitey Ford. As soft music played, the names of all of the former major leaguers who had died in the past year scrolled down a video screen.

“Whitey,” Berra said, “I sure hope I never see my name up there.”

Come July, at the end of a charmed and unwittingly charming life, he’ll get his wish.