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10:04 am
Wed March 28, 2012

'Driving Mr. Yogi': A Diamond Of A Friendship

There is often a special bond between pitchers and catchers. They report for work first in spring training and share a secret language of hand signals to work their way through batters.

But the bond between this pitcher and catcher duo, each Yankee legends of different generations, began after their playing days.

When Yogi Berra, a three-time Most Valuable Player, now in his mid-80s, arrives in Tampa for spring training, he's picked up at the airport by Ron Guidry, the four-time All-Star and Cy Young Award-winning pitcher known as Louisiana Lightnin'.

They watch ballgames, share meals and talk about baseball.

New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton tells the story of their friendship in his new book, Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball's Greatest Gift.

But it was Berra and Guidry themselves who showed up at a Florida studio to talk about their friendship with NPR's Scott Simon. Guidry, of course, did the driving.

"I look forward, coming every year to spring training," says Guidry. "We always get everything squared away a couple of months down the road, and he'll want to know certain other things that are accumulated over the wintertime, like his frog legs."

That's right: Guidry persuaded his legendary friend to eat frogs' legs. "I put them on the table, and I said, 'Either you try one today, or we're not going out to eat anymore while you're here.' And he had about two weeks left," Guidry says. "So he tried one. And as soon as he tried one, ever since then, that's the first thing he asks for, every winter."

There's a famous photo of Jackie Robinson sliding into home in the 1955 World Series — a copy even hangs in the Obama White House. And that copy was signed by Yogi Berra. "He was out," Berra grumbles — though the umpire called Robinson safe — and that's what Berra inscribed on the photo.

Guidry says people are always calling out to the two as they pal around Tampa, especially at Berra's hotel. "We don't mind signing autographs at the ballpark, where it should be," he says. "But, you know, waiting for us in the parking lot to sign autographs, not exactly the best place for it."

Guidry says he and Berra dream about turning the tables on persistent fans. "Just forget who we are, and just go find a guy and just follow him all day, and just bug him all day about sign this, sign this," he says.

Despite the autograph hounds, Berra says being a major-leaguer was his lifelong dream. "It's fun; baseball's fun," he says, but he cautions parents who might push their kids too hard, too young.

"What do you know what he's going to do at 9 years old? You don't know what he's going to do," says Berra. He says he was 14 when he began to pursue his dream, playing on an American Legion team where a teammate nicknamed him "Yogi."

Becoming a Yankee wasn't easy, Berra says. There was a lot of pressure to perform. "I always got nervous the nights we played in the World Series. First pitch, I was nervous. Then after that, forget it, I'd start playing," he says.

Now long retired, Berra still watches baseball avidly — and when a player screws up, he'll call Guidry to complain.

"I've always said it's probably some of the best times I've spent in my life is just being around him," Guidry says. "We might not say it, we might not show it, but we are quite fond of each other.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. There's often a special bond between pitchers and catchers. They report for work first in spring training, and they share a secret language of hand signals to work their way through batters. But the bond between this pitcher and catcher duo, each Yankee legends of different generations, began after their playing days. When Yogi Berra, the three-time Most Valuable Player, and in his mid-80s now, arrives in Tampa for spring training, he's picked up at the airport by Ron Guidry, the four-time all-star and Cy Young Award winning pitcher - Louisiana Lightning. They watch ballgames, they share meals, and they talk about baseball and life. Harvey Araton, the New York Times sports columnist, has told the story of their friendship in his new book, "Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball's Greatest Gift." We're joined now from WUSF in Tampa by Ron Guidry and Yogi Berra. Gentlemen, thanks so much for being with us.

YOGI BERRA: Thank you.

RON GUIDRY: You're quite welcome.

SIMON: So, did Ron Guidry drive you to the studios there today, Mr. Berra?

BERRA: Oh, yeah. He does all the driving.

SIMON: Is he on time?

BERRA: Sometimes he is, most of the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: How did that start? George Steinbrenner said I need someone to pick up Yogi, and it's you, Louisiana Lightning?

BERRA: No.

GUIDRY: No. No.

SIMON: So what happened?

GUIDRY: I just know that...

BERRA: I tell him to pick me up.

GUIDRY: He just said I'm flying in, I'm landing at such and such a time on Continental. Be there. So, I said, OK. I'll be there. So, you know, that's how it all starts. But you look forward to it. You know, I look forward coming every year to spring training. You know, we always get everything squared away a couple of months down the road and he want to know certain other things, you know, that are accumulated over the wintertime like his frog legs and stuff like that.

BERRA: He was good at it. He's good at it.

SIMON: How did it happen, Mr. Guidry, that you got Yogi Berra to eat frog legs?

GUIDRY: Well, the first time it was no. And this went on for a couple of years until finally I put them on the table and I said either you try one today or we're not going out to eat anymore while we're here. And he had about two weeks left. So, he tried one. And as soon as he tried one, ever since then that's the first thing he asked for every winter.

SIMON: Mr. Berra, there's a famous picture I've seen over the years. I think there's even a copy in President Obama's office. And that's the photo, 1955 World Series, Jackie Robinson's sliding into home.

BERRA: He's out.

GUIDRY: He's out.

BERRA: He's out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: All right, let me just, you know, state for the record that the umpire called him safe. Well, how did you sign that photo for President Obama?

BERRA: He was out.

SIMON: Mr. Guidry, what are the kinds of things that people say to Yogi Berra when you're out together?

GUIDRY: Well, everybody has the same, hey, Yog', hey, Yog', hi, Yog', Mr. Berra, Mr. Berra.

BERRA: The one at the hotel, we're always getting taught not to (unintelligible) hotel.

GUIDRY: Yeah, yeah. That's a little bit different.

SIMON: What happens at the hotel?

GUIDRY: Oh, well, you know, people know where we stay so a lot of times when we're leaving or coming back, you know, you have people who are trying to get autographs that kind of wait for you in the parking lot. But, you know, we don't mind signing autographs at the ballpark, where it should be. But, you know, waiting for us in the parking lot to sign autographs is not exactly the best place for it. The other day, him and I talked about what we'd like to do one day is just, like, forget who we are and just go find a guy and just follow him all day and just bug him all day about sign this, sign - and let you see how it actually is. You know, everywhere you go just be hounded.

SIMON: What does being a Yankee mean to both of you?

BERRA: I was very lucky. I think I played 17 years. But I always said when I was 14 years old I'm going to play in the big leagues. I love baseball. It's fun. Baseball is fun. The one that gets me most mad now a lot is like a dad will come up to me and say: Boy, wait till you see my kid, you know, and all of that. I said: How old is he? He said: He's 9. I say: What do you know what he's going to do at 9 years old? You don't know what he's going to do. I knew when I was 14. I played American Legion ball. That's how I got my nickname, playing the American Legion team. I was sitting on the ground. I sit on the ground and I always had my arms crossed. And Bobby Huffman played with the Giants. He saw me, said, you look like a yogi, and it stuck. Yep.

SIMON: What have you two learned from each other?

GUIDRY: I've always said it's probably some of the best times I've spent in my life is just being around him. We're quite fond of each other. We might not say it. We might not show it. But we are quite fond of each other. He is my best friend.

BERRA: I feel the same way as he does. I give (unintelligible) with me. We talk during the winter. When the season's over, we talk together.

GUIDRY: It'll be funny. There will be some nights where he's in Montclair, New Jersey, I'm in Lafayette, Louisiana, and we're both watching the game and he'll call. And then he'll get on me for something that a pitcher did a thousand miles away.

SIMON: Ron Guidry and Yogi Berra. Harvey Araton tells the story of their friendship in the new book, "Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry and Baseball's Greatest Gift." Gentlemen, thanks so much. Have a great spring.

GUIDRY: You, too.

BERRA: All right, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.