Among the Gods- This week I had the distinct pleasure of writing a guest blog over at Josh Wilker‘s brilliant site Cardboard Gods. For those of you unfamiliar, Wilker chooses an old baseball card from his 1970s collection and uses that as a platform to expound. The piece is a little long for MTM, so today I’m going to share an excerpt, but you can read the whole thing here.
When people look at a Dale Berrabaseball card, any number of things might strike them. For starters, he’s the son of New York Yankees legend, American sage, and Hanna-Barbera cartoon namesake Yogi Berra. Not only is Yogi a Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest catcher to ever play the game, but he’s a cultural icon who transcended sports through decades of witticisms and Yoohoo ads. For many people then, it is only natural to gaze upon Dale Berra and think of his famous father.
Emerging from behind the colossus of Yogi to grab a spotlight of his own was understandably difficult for Dale. And when he finally did make a name for himself, it was ignominious. For some people then, this card is a reminder that Dale Berra was once a poster child for cocaine running amok in pro sports. In fact, he did so much coke that it landed him a role as star witness at the infamous 1985 drug trials that revealed the Pittsburgh Pirates were been knee-deep in Disco Dust during their late-70s heyday. Because of this public disgrace, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspended Berra for the entire 1986 season, while Steve Howe was barely being punished for spreading the stuff all over his body like it were baby powder. The sentence was commuted when Berra agreed to pony up some money to an anti-drug program and do a couple hundred hours of community service. But it was all PR. In 1989, Dale Berra was indicted for being part of a northern New Jersey drug ring that distributed $15,000-20,000 worth of cocaine every week.
For Yankee fans specifically, this card may stir memories of Dale’s two seasons in New York. On the field he was lackluster, but off it he was the pivot around which Berra the elder had a brutal falling out with the Bronx Bombers. In 1985, team owner George Steinbrenner promised Yogi that if he signed on to manage the Yankees, he would have the job for the entire season regardless of how the team performed. Yogi cherished the opportunity to manage his son Dale, who was nearing the end of an undistinguished career and had been traded to New York during the off-season. So the elder Berra made the mistake of taking Steinbrenner at his word. King George fired him after only sixteen games. The insult was so grave that Yogi Berra, the most beloved of all Yankee greats, swore off the organization so long as Steinbrenner was owner, refusing to even set foot in the cathedral of the Bronx.
When I look at this card, however, I don’t think about Yogi or coke or the infamous Steinbrenner carousel of managers. What stands out to me is theautograph. It seems carefully studied. This signature is far more elegant than the illegible, hurried scribble that typically garnishes a 3.5? x 2.5? piece of cardboard.
I imagine Dale Berra surreptitiously practicing on a page of looseleaf paper during 7th grade science class. Even then he knew a lesson on inert gases held no sway over his fate. After all, his father had earned three MVPs, ten World Series rings, and a first-class ticket to Cooperstown. A man like that casts a shadow long enough to blot out the periodic table. No, Dale Berra was of noble lineage, and he dreamed about growing up to be a New York Yankee, just like his dad. One day, he too would sign autographs for adoring fans, so he should practice now. No mere X would mark his spot. He required a John Hancock that lived up to the family name. Let the peasants study electrons. READ MORE HERE.
Come back tomorrow for a god among men, Mr. Cheesy Bruin. In the meantime, you can follow me on Facebook.