World War II veteran and three-time MLB MVP baseball player Yogi Berra was the brunt of negative reports and trash-talking fans and players. However, after 32 years in baseball, Berra said that it was life-changing not to focus on the negative.
“Ever since I’ve been in baseball—and that’s been over 32 years now—people have had a lot of fun at my expense. Sportswriters, fans, opposing players, and even some of my teammates, have kidded me about the way I look, the way I run, the way I talk, and things I say,” the New York Yankees catcher wrote in 1976. “Razzing players on the other team is part of baseball. So, when I was starting out in the minor leagues, the opposing players started hollering about how ‘ugly’ I was.”
However, things did not change when Berra got his big break in the major leagues with one of the winningest ball clubs in MLB history, the New York Yankees.
“After I began to catch for the New York Yankees, they called me Neanderthal Man. A writer wrote that my face looks like a ‘fallen soufflé.’ They called me a ‘comicstrip character’ because I liked to read comic books,” Berra said, adding that he was not athletic or tall like his teammates. “Others said I ‘didn’t look like a Yankee.’
“Every once in a while, someone will ask me, ‘Yogi, how do you keep going and doing so well while fans and players are always making fun of you? How do you keep from getting mad, nasty, resentful, rattled?’ Well, when I was getting started in baseball and they would holler stuff at me, I was trying too hard to prove I belonged in organized baseball to really take offense at it,” he added.
However, Berra confessed that the temptation to seek revenge or retaliate almost overtook him on a few occasions.
“It was after I had moved up to the Newark, New Jersey, Bears, the Yankees’ farm team in the International League. One afternoon, some guy in the stands behind our dugout lit into me every time I showed my face,” he recalled. “‘Hey, King Kong, who let you out of your cage?’ he yelled. ‘Go back to the tomato patch!’ ‘Berra, ya bum, you couldn’t get a hit with a paddle.’
“Why is it that guys like that always seem to have foghorn voices that can be heard all over the ball park? Some of our own men in the dugout started needling me. ‘Yogi, aren’t you going to go after him?’ they said. And, you know, once in a while a player will go right up in the stands after a fan, especially in the minors, if he just can’t take any more.”
However, Berra recalled the words and advice of a spiritual mentor, which allowed him to keep his cool.
“I wasn’t saying anything, but I was really burning. I was tense and gritting my teeth. I peeked around the corner of the dugout to try to pick that fellow out in the crowd. Then all of a sudden a quiet voice seemed to speak to me, and I recognized that voice. It was the voice of Father Charles Koester, a priest at my old neighborhood parish of St. Ambrose in St. Louis, who is also auxiliary bishop there. Father Koester is a great baseball fan who has been a valuable adviser to me all my life,” Berra said.
“Now I seemed to hear him saying, ‘What are you going to accomplish by trying to shut that man up or punching him in the nose? You’ll just start trouble and get yourself all riled up. You’re paid to get hits and call pitches, aren’t you—not to fight with people! Calm down and do your job!’” he added. “So I just made myself cool off. The next time up at bat I did get a hit, and we ended up winning the game.”
After that particular incident, Berra recalled that he never felt an urge to fight back against the negativity.
“After that day I was never again tempted to go after anyone who was being insulting to me, whether it was a fan, a player on the other team or a sportswriter getting some good copy by poking fun at me,” Berra said. “I just adopted the attitude that what people say about me, well, that’s their opinion. I have to satisfy myself with what I’m doing.”
He concluded: “It’s the same in life as it is in playing ball: If you let something get under your skin, you’ll never get the job done. As Father Koester would say, ‘Never let negative things that others say keep you from doing your best. And if your best isn’t good enough today, remember, you’ll come up to bat again tomorrow!’”