Yogi Berra is most often remembered for his earnest and unintentionally hilarious views on life, but his baseball acumen was legendary, according to someone who is fairly well versed on the subject.
"There's a lot of stuff that people giggle about with Yogi, but when he opens his mouth and talks about baseball, you'd better listen," former Yankees manager Joe Torre said Thursday night at the official reopening of Berra's museum in northern New Jersey.
To hear Torre tell it, not enough of Berra's wisdom rubbed off when Torre played for Berra for the New York Mets in the mid-1970s.
"I think I helped get him fired," Torre cracked.
Sportscaster Bob Costas also was on hand to celebrate the reopening of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center after a nine-month, $3.2 million renovation. Among the new features unveiled Thursday was an interactive exhibit gallery that includes Berra's 10 championship rings and the jersey he wore when he caught Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
According to museum director David Kaplan, Berra didn't think to hold on to the jersey at the end of the season, and it was passed on to another player who was trying out for the Yankees the next year, as was the custom at the time. It eventually made its way to a public auction and was bought last year by a collector for $600,000.
"If I'd known how much it was worth, I would have kept it," Berra said with a chuckle.
The photographs and artifacts from Berra's career underscore how much professional sports have changed: His first minor-league contract is displayed, for all of $90 per month with a $500 bonus if he lasted for the whole season. Other pictures show Berra and Yankee teammate Phil Rizzuto working at a men's clothing store in Newark in the off-season.
Torre, his arm in a sling after recent shoulder surgery, is scheduled to take part in Yankees' old-timers' day on Sunday. He recalled being disappointed by Berra only once, when he asked him to present his 1996 World Series ring. It was during a time when Berra was estranged from the Yankee organization and then-owner George Steinbrenner, a rift that eventually was healed.
Costas marveled at Berra's Everyman demeanor and recalled how his own daughter became a fan of Berra and his famously mangled aphorisms when she was 12 or 13 and eventually was treated to lunch by Berra and his wife.
"I think people might have been in awe of a Mickey Mantle or a Joe DiMaggio, but with Yogi they saw someone they could say, 'Hey, how ya doing?'" he said. "He stands apart. I think people can tell when someone is a decent person, and he exudes decency."
The Berra museum opened in the late 1990s on the campus of Montclair State University. In addition to the baseball exhibits, it offers children's educational programs that focus on sportsmanship and social justice.