Sometimes baseball players forget the players that have come before them. Even though the greats are recognized by the Hall of Fame, welcomed back with their “Day” at the ballpark and recognized before all-star games and at old-timers days (how’s that for an antiquated term?), for far too many players today it seems as though the luster of their predecessors’ careers, however remarkable, dull as soon as their uniform is removed.
Derek Jeter’s friendship with Yogi Berra was an exception. Players of all ages should be reminded of and learn from this mutually respectful relationship. “You can observe a lot by watching,” Berra famously said.
The following is excerpted from an ESPN.com story by Ian O’Connor, senior writer, posted the day Yogi Berra died, September 23, 2015:
In his oversized team jacket, slowly moving about Yankee Stadium as he checked on all of his guys, Yogi Berra would always tell friends he had one stop he absolutely needed to make. It wasn’t Monument Park.
“Gotta go see Jeet,” Berra would say.
Derek Jeter’s locker was the place to find Berra in his final years as an American ballpark treasure. Yogi would wait there and make small talk with passersby, and eventually the captain of the New York Yankees would return from a BP session, approach the owlish figure in his path, and playfully slap down the bill on Berra’s cap.
This is why Yogi kept returning to the Bronx, these moments with Jeter that would remind him of the moments he shared with Joe D. and the Mick. “Yogi and Derek were like two kids together,” said Berra’s friend, Dave Kaplan, the director of Yogi’s museum on the campus of New Jersey’s Montclair State University. “It was a warm, fun relationship. And Yogi saw Jeter as someone who cherished being part of the Yankee tradition as much as he did, and that meant a lot to him.”
It meant everything to Berra that Jeter’s Yankees treated him as a winning ballplayer, as one of them, rather than as another storytelling old-timer who just got in the way. That kept Yogi going; it really did.
On his website, The Players Tribune, Jeter called Berra an even better person than player. “To me he was a dear friend and mentor,” the retired captain said. “He will always be remembered for his success on the field, but I believe his finest quality was how he treated everyone with sincerity and kindness.”
It’s a shame a generation or two of fans knew him more as the master of the malaprop, just like a generation of fans knew Joe DiMaggio more as Mr. Coffee. But if that bothered Berra, he never let it show.
Berra and Kaplan had run some fundraisers and events at the museum over the years, and whenever the catcher needed some star power on the dais, he knew which locker to stake out.
“Yogi would just say, ‘Hey Jeet, I need you at the museum,’ and Derek’s jaw would drop because you knew how many requests he got from people,” Kaplan said. “Some guys would say they’d have to check their schedule, but Jeter never did that with Yogi. He always showed up.”
The captain of the Yankees always made Yogi Berra feel like he was still the man behind the mask. It was only the greatest play of Derek Jeter’s career.