John Guardo, NPR News
Yogi Berra in NPR's New York City bureau.
Cover of Berra's memoir, Ten Rings: My Championship Seasons (William Morrow, 2003)
In 1947, a rookie New York Yankees catcher named Lawrence Peter Berra was struggling behind the plate. Sports writers made fun of the squat, knock-kneed kid, and gave him the nickname "The Ape."
But over time Berra would grow to become a world-class player, and would earn another, better-known nickname: Yogi. He would share the dugout with some of the greatest players in baseball history, during the so-called "golden age" of baseball from the end of World War II to the early 1960s — Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford and the other star players who carved out a Yankees dynasty.
As a Yankee catcher, Berra would win 10 championship rings — more than any other player of the 20th century. Berra collects a lifetime of stories in his new memoir of his time as a player, Ten Rings: My Championship Seasons. Berra recently spoke with NPR's Robert Siegel about his remarkable career as a Yankee — and why he is more often remembered the distinctive way he expressed himself off the field than for his prowess on the field.
In this excerpt from Ten Rings, Berra addresses that witty legacy — and how he would really like to be remembered:
"Maybe I was a little peculiar, because the writers and the public always considered me a funny guy, with my Yogi-isms and stuff. But that isn't quite the case, really. God knows, no one was ever more serious about the game than me. No one in baseball loved to compete more or worked harder to succeed. A lot of people thought I was a joke as a catcher, and for a while I was, but I think I turned out all right. Always, I was proud to be a Yankee, and all of my teammates were proud of that tradition, too. We all wanted to continue it. We all had to do our part, and I hope I did mine. Winning ten championships, having ten beautiful rings to signify each year, I also consider myself pretty lucky. I must've been born at the right time."