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Yogi Berra

President Barack Obama said he wanted even more funding for treatment. File photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Years before he was the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama gave me a call.

I was working at Bloomberg News as a banking reporter and was covering some financial services issue. A source of mine suggested that I chat with this state senator from Illinois, whom he insisted was going places. My source clearly recognized Obama’s potential.

What I recall about a conversation that was akin to getting a rookie card for Derek Jeter was that Obama was erudite, eloquent and halting in his response to my questions. Attuned to the rapid pace of New York conversation, I was unaccustomed to the cadence of his conversation.

When Obama ran for office, I recognized not only his name but also his speech pattern.

I have had brushes with a wide range of people of varying levels of fame, often times in the context of my work as a journalist. Please find below a brief compendium of such interactions.

— Jim Lovell. The commander of Apollo 13, Lovell and his wife Marilyn attended an event in Florida where I was their point of contact. When the cool night breeze gave Marilyn a chill, Lovell jumped up to get her sweater and asked when they could leave. I asked my bosses, who wanted Lovell, who was the honored guest, to stay until after dinner. He was greatly appreciative when I told him he could finally lift off.

— Yogi Berra. I attended an event at Tavern on the Green event, where Berra was a client of the host. Even though I was only five foot, seven inches tall at the time (I’m probably a bit shorter now), I towered over the older and thin former Yankees catcher. When I told him it was an honor to meet him, he took my hand in his and offered a polite smile.

— Eliot Spitzer. Before he was a governor and client 9, Spitzer was a hard-charging New York Attorney General who went after investment banks for inflating stocks to help their business at the potential expense of investors. I spoke regularly with Spitzer, whose energy and intellect made it hard for my fingers to keep up while I was typing notes. I expected the impressive and ambitious Spitzer to ascend to national office.

— Scott Kelly. I interviewed Astronaut Scott Kelly after he set an American record for continuous time in space of 340 days aboard the International Space Station. With his then girlfriend, now wife, Amika Kauderer, in the room, the two of them described his book. She also recounted the second class treatment she received from some of the wives who weren’t impressed with her status as a girlfriend.

— Ed Koch. The former New York mayor was a staple at Bloomberg News, where I worked for several years. At 6 feet, two inches tall, Koch towered over me as he regularly filled his plate with some of the free snacks and sugary treats at the newsroom.

— Hank Paulson. I interviewed the former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs at an International Monetary Fund meeting in Hong Kong. After I asked the first question, Paulson, who would become Treasury Secretary, yanked the microphone out of my hands and spent the rest of the interview holding it up to his mouth. I tried to project my voice into the microphone and above the chatter in a crowded restaurant.

— Goldie Hawn. At a lunch at Shun Lee Palace near Lincoln Center with a former banker from the now defunct Lehman Brothers, I spotted the famous actress as I approached her crowded table. Dressed in a sleeveless black dress, she could tell I recognized her. Rather than look away, she gave me a warm and welcoming smile. I wished, even moments later, that I had given her a thumbs up or an appreciative grin. 

— Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. When I was at the New York Daily News, I spoke regularly with the Knicks legend for a rookie (Channing Frye) vs. veteran stock picking contest. While he lost the contest, he couldn’t have been friendlier and more receptive during our weekly calls, updating me on his life and sharing his weekly stock picks.

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Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Yogi Berra may have grown up playing baseball in Missouri, but when he was a catcher for the Yankees he was Mr. New York.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The legend died a few weeks ago at 90 years old, but he will be remembered by Long Island baseball fans for years to come.

Born in 1925, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra grew up in the Italian section of St. Louis, the son of immigrants who worked many hours to make ends meet for their family. As a kid, Berra discovered his love for baseball and would play at every opportunity, though his equipment was not always very advanced — coming from a poor family, he used old magazines as shin guards.

The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis produced outstanding ball players such as catcher Joe Garagiola, who played against Berra. However, the legend did not get to the major league right away.

Berra’s grades were poor and education was considered a luxury during the Great Depression, so he went to work in a coal mine. But Berra was meant to play baseball — he lost his job because of his habit of leaving work early to play the game with his friends. His parents did not understand or like baseball, but their son excelled and became one of the best players from their neighborhood. In 1942, the New York Yankees brought him into their dugout.

At 17 years old, Berra was away from home for the first time. His career began slowly, and he committed 16 errors in his first season as a catcher, although his hitting was consistent. Times were tough for the young man — he made $90 a month, before taxes were deducted, and there was little leftover after covering his living expenses. There were times Berra was close to starving. At one point, his manager loaned him money to buy cheeseburgers and adoring fans made Italian heroes for him to eat. He sold men’s suits in the winters to get by.

“What you have to remember about Yogi is that all he ever wanted was to be a baseball player.”
— Jerry Coleman, hall of fame broadcaster

Soon into his career, America’s priorities changed. With World War II raging, Uncle Sam started to draft baseball players into the military. Berra joined the U.S. Navy and was in the middle of the action in Europe on one of the most important days for the Allied war effort: June 6, 1944. On D-Day, Berra was on a rocket boat that fired armaments against the German fortifications at Normandy.

That August, the catcher aided landing troops during the amphibious invasion of southern France through Operation Dragoon. After fighting on D-Day, Berra said he was scared to death during those landings, because he realized the Germans could have killed his entire crew due to their proximity to the beaches. Despite his fear, he fought valiantly and went back behind home plate with a Purple Heart.

By 1946, with the war behind him, Berra returned to the ball park. He was one of the toughest and most talented players in the league, a three-time MVP who hit 305 homeruns and earned 10 World Series rings. Don Larsen, who in the 1956 World Series threw a perfect game to Berra, believed the catcher was the best pitch caller in baseball.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The all-star was at the center of many historic plays, including when Jackie Robinson famously stole home during the 1955 World Series. Berra, who was catching for pitcher Whitey Ford, attempted to tag out Robinson, but the umpire deemed the runner safe — a call Berra did not agree with.

Once he hung up his catcher’s gear in the 1960s, Berra became a coach and manager for the Yankees, the Mets and later the Houston Astros, among other business ventures.

For a man who did not earn an education past the eighth-grade level, Berra accomplished much during his lifetime, included being known for his creative sayings, commonly known as “Yogi-isms,” such as his famous quotes, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.” He was an American and athletic icon who represented the grit and character of his unique nation.