Carmen Berra, Yogi’s companion for nearly 70 years, was one of the famous Yankees baseball wives who could be identified by their first names, like Eleanor (Gehrig), Merlyn (Mantle) and Cora (Rizzuto).
Carmen Berra, nee Short, died Thursday night, March 6 014, at 85 in an assisted living home in Montclair, New Jersey, where the Berra’s had made their home for years. They had celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on January 26th of this year.
Carmen met Yogi after the 1947 season at Biggie’s steakhouse in St. Louis. She was then a 19-year-old waitress and a local beauty. Carmen served Yogi lunch and he asked her name and whether she was married. He had just played in 83 games for the Yankees in what amounted to his rookie season in the majors.
Their first date was a hockey game in St. Louis. Berra proposed marriage by placing a ring on the table in front of Carmen while they dined at his family’s home.
“I was bashful, nervous, not good-looking,” Yogi wrote in one of his books. “I could hardly believe my luck that Carmen liked me as much as I liked her.”
He romanced her with love letters from the road. They wed in early 1949 at St. Ambrose Church in St. Louis. Joe Garagiola was the best man. They formed a married team for 65 years, a union that produced 3 sons, 11 grandchildren and 1 great-grandson. They recently moved from their Montclair, N.J., home to an assisted-living facility.
Yogi, of course, became a Hall of Fame catcher, the Yankees’ manager (twice), the Mets’ skipper (once) and an unlikely sage.
Now 88, he is the most beloved living Yankee, but health problems prevent him from attending spring training, where he was once a fixture. In their own way, Yogi and Carmen were a boldface couple. She was among those at the Copacabana club in 1957 during a melee involving Yankees players and members of a bowling team who were heckling the entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.
When M. Donald Grant, the miserly Mets chairman, called the Berra home in 1975 to inform Yogi that he was to be fired as manager, Carmen asked for a two-week reprieve because her mother was visiting. Grant agreed.
And she was there, at Yogi’s insistence, in the room at his museum in Little Falls, N.J., when George Steinbrenner apologized to him in 1999 for firing him as Yankees manager in 1985.
The Berra marriage was central to the play “Bronx Bombers,” which closed March 2 after a brief Broadway run. Lindsay Berra, one of their granddaughters & a writer for ESPN.com, recalled her reaction at seeing the actress Tracy Shayne as her grandmother; Peter Scolari played Yogi : “At one point, she put her hands on her chest with her nude-colored manicure; it was so Grammy, that the hairs on my back stood up.”
My note: V & I were at the Hall of Fame ceremony that inducted Yogi. He thanked Carmen for her help and love throughout it all. He got a standing O.