Ever since I’ve been in baseball—and that’s been over 32 years now—people have had a lot of fun at my expense. Sportswriters, fans, opposing players, and even some of my teammates, have kidded me about the way I look, the way I run, the way I talk, and things I say.
Razzing players on the other team is part of baseball. So, when I was starting out in the minor leagues, the opposing players started hollering about how “ugly” I was.
After I began to catch for the New York Yankees, they called me Neanderthal Man. A writer wrote that my face looks like a “fallen soufflé.” They called me a “comicstrip character” because I liked to read comic books.
Others said I “didn’t look like a Yankee.” Well, I’m only five feet eight—not tall, slim and handsome like my onetime teammate, Joe DiMaggio. One sportswriter said my run is “a sort of swift, purposeful waddle.” Actually my legs are short for the length of my body, and I admit I’m knock-kneed.
I only finished the eighth grade, and I know my speech and grammar aren’t always the best. Sometimes my statements come out funny.
I guess I did say once that our team could score more runs if we weren’t making so many outs. And when they had a special night for me in St. Louis, my home town, I did thank everybody for “making this night necessary.” I also remember telling someone that a certain restaurant was no good because it’s always so crowded.
Every once in a while, someone will ask me, “Yogi, how do you keep going and doing so well while fans and players are always making fun of you? How do you keep from getting mad, nasty, resentful, rattled?”
Well, when I was getting started in baseball and they would holler stuff at me, I was trying too hard to prove I belonged in organized baseball to really take offense at it.
But one day later on, when I was more sure of myself, I did come close to “blowing my cool.” It was after I had moved up to the Newark, New Jersey, Bears, the Yankees’ farm team in the International League. One afternoon, some guy in the stands behind our dugout lit into me every, time I showed my face.
“Hey, King Kong, who let you out of your cage?” he yelled.
“Go back to the tomato patch!”
“Berra, ya bum, you couldn’t get a hit with a paddle.”
Why is it that guys like that always seem to have foghorn voices that can be heard all over the ball park?
Some of our own men in the dugout started needling me.
“Yogi, aren’t you going to go after him?” they said. And, you know, once in a while a player will go right up in the stands after a fan, especially in the minors, if he just can’t take any more.
I wasn’t saying anything, but I was really burning. I was tense and gritting my teeth. I peeked around the corner of the dugout to try to pick that fellow out in the crowd.
Then all of a sudden a quiet voice seemed to speak to me, and I recognized that voice. It was the voice of Father Charles Koester, a priest at my old neighborhood parish of St. Ambrose in St. Louis, who is also auxiliary bishop there. Father Koester is a great baseball fan who has been a valuable adviser to me all my life.
Now I seemed to hear him saying, “What are you going to accomplish by trying to shut that man up or punching him in the nose? You’ll just start trouble and get yourself all riled up. You’re paid to get hits and call pitches, aren’t you—not to fight with people! Calm down and do your job!”
So I just made myself cool off. The next time up at bat I did get a hit, and we ended up winning the game.
After that day I was never again tempted to go after anyone who was being insulting to me, whether it was a fan, a player on the other team or a sportswriter getting some good copy by poking fun at me.
I just adopted the attitude that what people say about me, well, that’s their opinion. I have to satisfy myself with what I’m doing.
It’s the same in life as it is in playing ball: If you let something get under your skin, you’ll never get the job done. As Father Koester would say, “Never let negative things that others say keep you from doing your best. And if your best isn’t good enough today, remember, you’ll come up to bat again tomorrow!”
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