My clock radio went off as it usually does every weekday morning at 7 AM. The first words I heard from a reporter were, "Ten-time world champion, three-time MVP, Hall of Famer...."
I knew what was coming next.
Yogi Berra died last evening at age 90. While the news was no surprise as his health has been failing for several years now, it hit a nerve. Yogi was always the Italian uncle, much in the way Phil Rizzuto was, that I never had. He was a constant in the lives of millions and millions of baseball and non-baseball fans alike.
For baseball fans, he was the star that most of us only saw in those grainy, black-and-white World Series highlights from the 1940s and 1950s. His was the image of leaping into the extended arms of Don Larson after the final out of the pitcher's perfect game in the 1956 Fall Classic.
But for so many of us, we heard the stories (and the Yogi-isms) of Berra through his boyhood friend, Joe Garagiola, during the Game of the Week broadcasts.
We knew him as the manager that took the unlikely Mets all the way to the 1973 World Series, running out to argue a pivotal play at the plate in which Buddy Harrelson was tagged out at home.
And we remember his time as Billy Martin's bench coach in the late Seventies, grabbing a heated Billy by the athletic supporter to keep him from going after Reggie Jackson in the Fenway Park dugout in June, 1977.
Then there was the defiant Yogi, fed up with George Steinbrenner after firing him as Yankee manager just games into the 1985 season, vowing never to come back as long as The Boss owned the team.
Yogi would come back, of course--fourteen years later--and on a day in his honor at the old Stadium, with Larson at his side, watched David Cone pitch a perfect game.
The moment dripped with irony.
I never got to meet Yogi, though I did give two presentations at his Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey--once on my own, the other time with Mookie Wilson. I also got to meet his granddaughter, Lindsay, an MLB reporter, during a book tour.
The museum is a testament to the American dream. Yogi grew up in St. Louis, the son of Italian immigrant parents. He would join the Navy and participate in the D-Day invasion during World War II. And then--in the ultimate American experience--he became the dignified leader of those great Yankee teams of the mid-20th century.
But Yogi was so much more. He was as much a part of Americana as anyone who has ever lived. The Yankees, and baseball, will never be the same without him around.