Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: Driving Mr. Yogi (2012)

By Harvey Araton

Just about everyone loves Yogi Berra ... even Boston Red Sox fans.

Berra was a catcher for the New York Yankees from the late 1940's to the early 1960's, and it's no great coincidence that the team won 10 world championships during his time with the Yankees. After all, Berra was one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. He also became famous for curious little phrases, such as "It ain't over 'til it's over," that represented some unique language skills.

He stayed in the game as a manager and coach for many years after that. Berra had done through something of a separation with Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner for several years, but Steinbrenner bridged that gap with a public apology and all was more or less forgiven.

That allowed Berra to be part of the Yankees' organization again from 1999, serving as the team's elder statesman and goodwill ambassador. Those years, for the most part, are what "Driving Mr. Yogi" are all about. The book is also something of a love story.

Ron Guidry, the fine Yankee pitcher of the 1970's and 1980's, always took good care of Berra during spring training in Tampa. He'd pick him up at the airport, have dinner with him most nights, and make sure Berra was treated him with respect. Berra wasn't a father figure to Guidry, who already had one of those. Guidry called Berra "his best friend," and there's obviously some truth in that.

Harvey Araton wrote a good-sized feature story for the New York Times on the subject of the relationship. It obviously received a great reaction, and was expanded into this book. As for the title, that was easy -- Guidry had a hat made up reading "Driving Mr. Yogi," while Berra eventually had a hat reading "Driven by Gator (Guidry's nickname)."

There's little doubt that this is a charming story at its base. Araton is obviously quite fond of both men. Berra is quite well-known, but Guidry was never that much of a public figure even when he was famous in baseball circles. Seeing this side of him is quite interesting.

With that all said ... it seems like the story is a better fit for a long newspaper or magazine article than a book. There's some padding and duplication of material here in order to get the amount of words up to the size of a relatively short book. The 200-plus pages go by pretty quickly here.

Therefore, it's difficult to think that most of the country won't think of this as a nice little tale between a couple of old-timers (that last word is used with the utmost respect, by the way). However, there's little doubt that many Yankee fans will like, and in some cases, even love this book. In other words, if there is a Yankee fan in your life somewhere, buying this book as a gift for him or her is a great idea.

Three stars

Learn more about this book.

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