Yogi Berra and his wife Carmen wave to the crowd during Yogi Berra Day at Yankee Stadium in July 1999. (AP)
The glamorous couple, because one of them was a legendary Yankee and the other was one of the most famous movie stars ever, was Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. But that was not the great and lasting Yankees love story. The great Yankee love story was Yogi and Carmen Berra.
Yogi Berra is a great Yankee, too. Don’t worry about that, and one of the great winners in baseball history, a sweet and kind and good man who has always been so much more than the character with the funny lines and the funny television commercials. That has always been the thing with No. 8.
As much ballplayer as he was, he has always been a much better man.
And through it all, there was this great beauty, the former Carmen Short, at his side, from the time she married Yogi in January of 1949. She became a mother and a grandmother and the First Lady of the Yankees for such a long time, even through all the years when Yogi was estranged from The Stadium and his team because of the way he was fired once as manager by the late George Steinbrenner.
Always at Yogi’s side there was Carmen — pretty and smart and funny, a partner to him in all ways.
We were sitting in his living room one time in Montclair, N.J., and Carmen had walked out of the room. Yogi and I got back to talking about baseball and the Yankees and finally I asked him what he thought his greatest accomplishment was and he smiled, and nodded toward the door his wife had just walked through.
“Getting her to marry me,” he said. “Who’d have thought?”
They finally moved out of that lovely home and moved into an assisted living facility. Yogi will be 89 in May. Carmen had a stroke recently and died Thursday night at the age of 85. It was just six weeks ago that the two of them had made it to their 65th anniversary.
The books have been written and the movies have been made about Joe and Marilyn. We have always known so much about their romance and their short marriage and how he made sure there were flowers left at her grave until the day he died. He was Joe D., the Yankee Clipper, the man who had hit in 56 straight games and played in 10 World Series and saw his Yankee teams win nine of those. Marilyn Monroe was — is — one of the famous movie sex symbols of all time.
There have been other marriages between sports and show business since. Never one that seemed as iconic as that. But the marriage to talk about and the Yankees love story to talk about is the one between Yogi and Carmen.
If you were lucky enough to know her, to know the two of them, you understood it all the moment you walked through the front door of their home. You saw the way he always looked at her and she looked at him. Better than anyone, she saw all the good in her husband, the intelligence; understood why people always have said that they just wanted to go through life standing next to Lawrence Peter Berra, because good things always seemed to happen to him.
The best thing to happen to him was Carmen. He knew it. We all did. You would talk to her in all those years when he stayed away from the team, and she would always say the same thing, “Who would ever want to be mean to Yogi?”
Carmen knew about all the famous lines credited to her husband, ones that helped create a whole Yogi industry, made him one of the most well-known characters in baseball history. She knew about him saying that it sure gets late early around here; and about the day that John Lindsay’s wife, Mary, told Yogi how cool he looked in a seersucker suit on a hot New York City Day and how Yogi responded, “You don’t look so hot yourself, Mrs. Lindsay.”
One day at the house in Jersey, Carmen said, “But you know who my husband really is? He’s an example of how you can come from where he came from and still have this kind of life in America. That’s who Yogi Berra is.”
Dale Berra and I were at a charity softball game one summer, and talking about how his dad had thrown out the first pitch at the same game once and been treated like some kind of rock star, even as an old man.
“A star who married a star,” Dale said.
He was talking about his mom, whom Yogi met when she was waitressing in the 1940s at Biggie’s restaurant in St. Louis. Yogi wanted to know if she was married and she laughed and said no. They started dating. He was 23 when they married, right before the Yankees season that began with five World Series titles in a row. She was 19. This was a romance that lasted all the way until this week at the Crane’s Mill Assisted Living Facility in West Caldwell, N.J.
She was there through the glory years of the 1950s with the New York Yankees, as DiMaggio gave way to Mantle in center field at the old Stadium. She was there when her husband got fired for losing Game 7 of the World Series to the Cardinals in 1964 and there when Yogi was with the Mets in 1973, and all the way back to Game 7 again, when it wasn’t over till it was over.
Always, she was there when you would visit them in Jersey, all her life and laughter and style and love of her husband filling the room, and Yogi’s wonderful American life. This was the love story to remember with the Yankees, today more than ever. The way the world has always loved Yogi, that is the way he loved Carmen.