- Last Updated: 11:32 AM, July 2, 2012
- Posted: 12:37 AM, July 2, 2012
The Greatest Living Yankee was smiling and waving inside a golf cart, seated next to Whitey Ford on the ride in from center field as Yankee Stadium stood in salute. Old-Timers’ Day is intended to be a nostalgic celebration of the way they were, and the sight of their legendary Boy of Summer being pushed out in his wheelchair onto a sweltering field of dreams would have been too painful for all to endure.
“If he’s not the most beloved man in this country, I hadn’t met him yet,” Ron Guidry said.
Yogi’s legs are 87 years old, and they had been confined to a wheelchair pushed by a young lady wearing an orange EMS Special Operations Supervisor shirt toward a room where all the Yankee old-timers got to reminisce.
Fittingly, Yogi had sat next to Don Larsen, his perfect game partner of yesteryear, and one of the old-timers joked, “You’re not gonna jump onto his arms anymore, are you?”
And Yogi laughed.
“Boo Boo,” Yogi said to Bobby Richardson, “what are you doing in uniform?”
“He was Yogi the Bear and I was Boo Boo, that type thing,” Richardson said, and smiled.
So Yogi’s legs may be betraying him, but we can all take comfort that his heart remains forever young, still able to leap into the warm embrace of a fan base and a sport and a nation that forever love him.
“He’s a legend,” Bucky Dent said. “They don’t make guys like him anymore. There’s only one Yogi.”
And he belongs to us. Our treasure. Our 10-time world champion. Our catcher in the wry.
“He could be the face of any franchise,” Lou Piniella said. “Here in New York with Casey, and Yogi, and Mickey, and Whitey and the rest of these guys, but the guy that is probably the most recognizable of all of ’em is Yogi.”
Brooklyn’s Lee Mazzilli was asked why Yogi means so much to New York and to the Yankees.
“I think you’d have to rephrase that, because I think you go around this country, and I think Yogi means so much to the people in this country,” Mazzilli said. “You talk baseball and you talk Yankees, and Yogi’s name comes up. And he’s just synonymous with the game of baseball. And he’s just so loved and revered, and he’s a special human being that we have the privilege to be around all the time.”
For nearly 15 years, we didn’t have the privilege because of Yogi’s feud with George Steinbrenner after The Boss fired him 16 games into the 1985 season.
Brooklyn’s Joe Torre: “Not too many guys can be recognized by one name. When he left here for that long period of time, it hurt his feelings because of his loyalty to the organization. And then when he was welcomed back, he ran back.Even though a lot of stuff he says is funny there’s a message in there pretty much all the time.”
No one, least of all an old Yankee, cares to see Yogi Berra in a wheelchair.
“I saw him in there today, and my heart just goes out for him,” Tommy John said. “He’s too good of a man to be going through that.”
John was asked to elaborate.
“He’s in a wheelchair, and I know that’s the last place that he wants to be, coming out here in a wheelchair,” John said. “I’m sure he’d like to walk out and wave, even though it’s a walk, a slow walk. But I guess if we live long enough, all of us will be like that.”
Willie Randolph: “It hurts me to see him like that ’cause I know that he would love to jog out here by himself and get the ovation that he deserved — probably the loudest ovation anyone is gonna get. It hurts a little bit to see him like that, man, but he’s with us, and I love him.”
He has always been Everyman, from the time he played with Mickey and Whitey and railed that Jackie was out at home, to Mee Hee for Yoo Hoo, to now.
“The word I hear is they gave him an honorary doctorate at Montclair State and he got up and he said to all of those graduates, ‘If you come to a fork in the road, take it’ and sat down, they gave him a standing ovation,” Richardson said.
Only one Yogi. Only one baseball curmudgeon like this.
“Yogi is the Yankees,” David Cone said. “He’s one of those guys that transcends the Yankees almost, his national commercials and all his Yogisms. People who don’t know anything about baseball know about Yogi Berra.”
The golf cart had been parked behind Yogi’s home plate, and soon, after several of the Yankees widows had hugged and kissed him, it was time for the old-timers game, and the driver, Joe Flannino, left down the first base line and disappeared with Yogi and Whitey into an opening in center field.
It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but for Yogi it was over. No “deja vu all over again” Yogisms on this day.
“His voice isn’t really that strong, and he just really wants to spend time with the guys,” Dave Kaplan, director of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, had said.
Nobody goes to Yogi’s rehab place anymore, it’s too crowded.
“His walking is improving,” Kaplan said. “He’s walking back with his cane, he’s just using a chair today for comfort purposes.”
Cone could observe a lot by watching Yogi yesterday.
“Yogi’s always upbeat,” he said.
It doesn’t have to get late early after all. For Yogi, let it get late later.Follow @NYPostsports