January 17, 2019

Yogi Berra’s Feud With George Steinbrenner

September 24, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Following Yogi Berra’s death, here is a short look at his estrangement from the Yankees, due to how Steinbrenner fired Yogi as Yankees manager early in the 1985 season, and his reconciliation with Steinbrenner in 1999. Yogi may have been lovable and a great quote, but his general image belied a fierceness that both led him to win many World Series and got him ejected from 27 games. That fierceness also led to him standing up to Steinbrenner for 14 years. Here is an excerpt from Mike Lupica’s column in the New York Daily News of October 17, 1996, anticipating the start of the World Series at Yankee Stadium on the 20th:

The only thing that could make the night perfect is if Yogi Berra could walk out to the middle of the diamond with DiMaggio. They are the two greatest living Yankees. Only one still comes around, though. And the one who does not come around Yogi knows more about nights like Saturday, about the World Series, than anyone alive. Reggie Jackson is called Mr. October. Yogi Berra was October in baseball.

“I’ll be like any Yankee watching the game,” Yogi said yesterday. “You see the Yankees in the Series and you feel like you’re watching your whole life.”

“You don’t want to come?”

“Nope.”

George Steinbrenner fired him after just 16 games of the 1985 season after saying that Yogi would have his job as manager all season. Yogi Berra, No. 8, said he would not come back to the Stadium as long as Steinbrenner ran the team. He has not come back. He said yesterday he would not be at the first game of this Series, any of the games. The Series thus misses an honored guest.

“You’re not going to change your mind about this?” he was asked.

“Nope.”

“But you’ll be pulling for the Yankees.”

“I’ll be rooting like hell,” Yogi Berra said. “I’ll never stop being a Yankee.”

He was asked if anybody had called this week to ask him to throw out a first ball at the Stadium.

“They’ve called asking me to come back,” Yogi said. “They haven’t called about the Series.”

Steinbrenner has tried to get Yogi Berra to come back, for Old Timer’s Day, for anything. He tells people all the time that he feels terrible about Berra’s self-imposed exile. But No. 8 has been the same in retirement as he was behind the plate in all his Octobers: You don’t move him. In this case, you don’t move him out of New Jersey on Saturday night.

“It’s easier on television,” he said. “There’s no crowds to fight in my living room, believe me.”

“There was one call I made sure to make yesterday,” Yogi said. “I called Joe in his office and told him how happy I was that he finally made it. I’m happy for him, I’m happy for Zim (Don Zimmer), I gotta be happy for Mel (Stottlemyre), he won me a game in ’64 when he was just a kid.”

‘I’m getting old,” Yogi said. “All these games we’re talking about, they seem like they happened yesterday.”

Eventually, in early 1999, Berra came back to the Yankees, with Joe DiMaggio serving as the catalyst. Here’s the story (again from the Daily News):

The emotional reunion that ended the 14-year cold war between George Steinbrenner and Yogi Berra was triggered by none other than the Yankee Clipper Joe DiMaggio.

During a 45-minute meeting in his Florida hospital room, the ailing baseball legend implored the Boss to bury the hatchet and end the feud, said Dr. Rock Positano, a long-time DiMaggio friend.

Sources told the Daily News that Steinbrenner had already been leaning toward making a gesture toward Berra but DiMaggio pushed him to go all the way.

“It shouldn’t be a personal thing,” DiMaggio told Steinbrenner, according to Positano.

“It should be first for the fans, then for the game, then for the Yankees. That should be more important than two men having a feud.”

Steinbrenner, 68, took DiMaggio’s words to heart and got the ball rolling to Tuesday’s mea culpa meeting with Berra, 73.

Yesterday, DiMaggio who was in a coma and near death on Dec. 11 was happy to hear the pair were talking, Positano said.

“Joe definitely had a hand in it,” said Positano. He added that DiMaggio’s brush with death “shook up a lot of people.”

DiMaggio, 84, has been in Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Fla., waging a battle against post-operative complications that arose after a tumor was removed from his right lung Oct. 14.

Joltin’ Joe’s near-death experience upset Steinbrenner. During his Tuesday meeting with Berra at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, N.J., the principal owner of the Bronx Bombers referred poignantly to DiMaggio’s illness.

“We lost Mickey [Mantle], we almost lost Joe [DiMaggio], we didn’t want to lose you,” Steinbrenner told Berra.

The cold war melted Tuesday when Steinbrenner told Berra, “I know I made a mistake by not letting you go in person. It was the worst mistake I ever made in baseball.”

“I made a lot of mistakes, too,” Berra responded. They hugged, shook hands and even talked about Berra’s coming back to Yankee Stadium, perhaps for a Yogi Berra Day.

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