Yogi Berra’s Ted Talk
When Ted Williams strode to the plate at Fenway Park in late September of 1946 for a game against the Yankees, he encountered for the first time a stocky, awkward-looking kid from St. Louis behind the plate. The Splendid Splinter obviously did not know Yogi Berra, his fellow World War II veteran who was replacing the legendary Bill Dickey, because he thought to himself, “Who the hell are the Yankees trying to fool with this guy?”
As the years passed, however, Williams’ internal dialogue would turn into a much friendlier external one. By the time the photo at right was taken, in 1957, the two had been American League rivals for many years as well as All-Star Game teammates every season but one since 1948 (that happened in ’52, which Williams spent as a fighter pilot in Korea). Williams, though less of a splinter, was still splendid, batting a remarkable .388 that year, while Grampa posted his ninth straight 20-home-run season and helped the Yankees reach the World Series for the ninth time in his career.
Grampa talked to batters. A lot. He was never mean and didn’t intend to distract; he just liked to chat. If a hitter wouldn’t engage, Gramp would flick little balls of dirt into their shoes until they paid him some heed.
On “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in 1998, Grampa relayed one of his many home-plate conversations with his Red Sox pal. He said he asked Williams, an avid fisherman, how they were biting. He asked if he’d been to any good restaurants in town. And on and on until Williams turned to him and snapped, “Shut up, you little dago, I’m up here to hit.”
Both men excelled at that, of course, and both wound up in the Hall of Fame. The rivalry they were cornerstones of for so long will be renewed this week in New York and could be continued in October, as both the Yankees and Red Sox appear to be postseason bound.
Williams passed away in 2002. Grampa died Sept. 22, 2015. But I know somewhere, he is still talking to Ted.
Lindsay Berra is a freelance journalist who was a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine and a reporter at MLB.com.