Most of you deep blue baseball fans already know the story of how Lawrence Berra came to be known as “Yogi.”

The Real Yogi Berra (c) John G. Zimmerman

The Real Yogi Berra
(c) John G. Zimmerman

Supposedly, he and best friend Joe Garagiola and some of their other buddies from “The Hill” Italian neighborhood in St. Louis went to a movie together back in the 1930s, as was their usual Saturday pattern when the change was available for tickets. . While they were there on this particular day, they saw one of those travelogue features that used be so popular back in the day – the kind of one-reeler narrated by John Nesbitt for a series they called “The Passing Parade.” It was a short subject serial on travel and historic events that ran from 1938 to 1949 and it was was tailor-made for the movie going public back in the pre-home TV days. – I only suggest that guess because I watched enough of these little shows myself down here in Houston during the post-WWII period of that era, I think I even saw the Indian yogi feature that altered Mr. Larry Berra’s identity forever too.

Berra and company apparently saw that one about mystics in India too. It showed a few examples of yogic teachers in India and gave the boys a “blue bayou” (blew-by-you) introduction to yoga and yogi teachers. I can just hear the walking-out-of-the-movie conversation now. It was just kids doing what kids do, but it was an interaction of ideas and words that would set in place the name of a future American icon.

Not knowing the actual names of the Berra buddies involved, I’ll simply have to give two of them fictional Italian first names and report how the conversation among friends plays out in my head. – Just one more note: Until this moment, Berra wa known as “Lawdy” to his friends. They called him “Lawdy’ because that’s the way his name sounded when expressed aloud by his Italian mother Paulina. She could not say “Larry,” the Americanized nickname for males hung with the “Lawrence” formal first name. When she tried to say “Larry,” it simply came out “Lawdy,” so that’s what the buddies chose to call him too. That is, until this date came along.

Here’s the way I hear it coming down. – Four Italian-American boys from The Hill in St. Louis are walking out into the bright July snlight from a  neighborhood movie house in St. Louis, Missouri.  It is 1938. The boys are all about 13-14 years old:

Luigi: “The movie was OK. – I like them Charlie Chan films.”

Lawdy: “Yeah, me too. I like the way they taped back that actor’s eyes to make him look Chinese.”

Joe: (tongue-in-cheek) “You mean to tell me that Charlie Chan ain’t no real Chinese detective, Lawdy? – Well, shoot! You could-a’ fooled me. I guess they got no Chinese actors out there in Hollywood.”

Mario: “I liked the short feature about India best. I liked the way them yogis just sat there, all still-like, just rolling their eyes back into all white cotton-looking balls.”

Luigi: “Yeah, I liked that too – but did you guys see what  I saw? – That one yogi looked just like old Lawdy here!”

Joe: “Oh, my Cardinal crab cakes be damned, Luigi Tomato Face! – You just nailed t! – That Indian yogi guy did – he looked just like our own little bashful Lawdy here! – From now on, let’s get off this hopeless “Lawdy” name and call our man by a word  that really fits him. Come on! Get with me on this one, guys! He’s “Yogi” from now on! – OK? – Yogi Berra!”

Lawdy: “OK by me, you guys,  but, Joe, first you gotta tell me something.- What the heck is a “Cardinal crab cake?”


2 Responses to “Yogi”

  1. Mike McCroskey Says:

    Good story, Bill. Always thought I was a true baseball fan; but never heard this tale before. Now I have!



  2. Mark Wernick Says:

    Great cover story on Yogi in SI this week (07/04/11).

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