A Life Behind the Mask


By Jon Pessah

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Discover the definitive biography of Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees icon, winner of 10 World Series championships, and the most-quoted player in baseball history.

Lawrence "Yogi" Berra was never supposed to become a major league ballplayer.

That's what his immigrant father told him. That's what Branch Rickey told him, too—right to Berra's face, in fact. Even the lowly St. Louis Browns of his youth said he'd never make it in the big leagues.

Yet baseball was his lifeblood. It was the only thing he ever cared about. Heck, it was the only thing he ever thought about. Berra couldn't allow a constant stream of ridicule about his appearance, taunts about his speech, and scorn about his perceived lack of intelligence to keep him from becoming one of the best to ever play the game—at a position requiring the very skills he was told he did not have.

Drawing on more than one hundred interviews and four years of reporting, Jon Pessah delivers a transformational portrait of how Berra handled his hard-earned success—on and off the playing field—as well as his failures; how the man who insisted "I really didn't say everything I said!" nonetheless shaped decades of America's culture; and how Berra's humility and grace redefined what it truly means to be a star.

Overshadowed on the field by Joe DiMaggio early in his career and later by a youthful Mickey Mantle, Berra emerges as not only the best loved Yankee but one of the most appealingly simple, innately complex, and universally admired men in all of America.







Decisions, Decisions


Lawdie Berra has always thought he was going to be a major league baseball player. And why not? It’s early in the summer of 1939, he’s a few weeks past his 14th birthday, and he’s always been the best player among the hundreds of boys playing ball on Dago Hill, the Italian quarter of St. Louis.

There’s not much the youngest of four Berra boys can’t do on a baseball field. Lawdie—the name derived from his Italian-speaking mother’s struggle to pronounce “Lawrence”—is so quick and agile he can handle any infield position. He’s fast enough to play all three outfield posts and has a rifle of a throwing arm. Most times, he alternates between catcher and pitcher with his best friend, Joey Garagiola, the second-best player on The Hill.

Lawdie doesn’t look much like a baseball player. He stands just under five foot eight, with a large head atop big, muscular shoulders that make his neck almost invisible. He has short, muscular legs, long arms with thick wrists, and meaty hands with stubby fingers. But put a bat in those hands, and he’ll hit anything thrown to him—in the strike zone or out—and hit it hard from either side of the plate. A while back, his older brothers—all good ballplayers themselves—convinced Lawdie that hitting left-handed gave him an edge. So Lawdie, a natural right-handed hitter, simply switched sides.

Nothing seems to faze this kid. Not even the taunts about his looks he always hears when he faces a team for the first time. A double with the bases loaded usually takes care of that, and there are plenty of those, too. When there’s a tough pitcher on the mound? “So what?” Berra says, his toothy grin seeming to stretch from one big ear to the other. “I got a bat. I swing. That’s all.” Playing baseball is all Lawdie Berra wants to do, and he’s sure he’ll be a major leaguer one day.

There’s just one problem.

Lawdie Berra’s father is against the whole idea.

And that’s nothing new.

Pietro Berra was against it when his oldest son Tony was invited to try out for the Cleveland Indians. Lefty, as Tony was known on the ball fields on The Hill, smacked line drives to all fields, had a strong arm, possessed plenty of speed, and could field every infield position superbly. Pietro said no to the tryout. “Out of the question,” he thundered in Italian. A man’s job is to provide for his family, and a man can’t be a provider by playing a little boy’s game. Tony, now 26, has been working in one of The Hill’s many bakeries ever since.

Pietro was against it when second-born son Mike was asked to try out a few years later by the hometown Browns—the city’s other and decidedly second-favorite major league team. “Baseball players are bums!” Pietro bellowed, and Mike found a job working at the Johansen Bros. shoe factory. Both young men now play semipro ball on weekends against factory teams or teams from another town, picking up a few bucks and dreaming about what might have been.

“Men don’t make a living playing a game,” Pietro Berra says each time the subject of playing professional baseball is raised.

And that is what he is saying again now. Which is why Lawdie is sitting against the kitchen wall, arms folded across his chest, a hard stare frozen on his normally smiling face. His parents have convened a family meeting to discuss their youngest son’s decision to quit school now that he’s made it through the eighth grade. Tony and Mike are here, listening to the same speech Pop has given so many times before. So is Pietro and Paulina’s third son John, three and a half years older than Lawdie and already waiting tables for several years at Ruggeri’s, one of the finest restaurants in St. Louis.

Pietro and Paulina have also asked Father Anthony Palumbo from St. Ambrose Church, the beating heart of The Hill’s overwhelmingly Italian-Catholic community, to help guide their decision. The principal of Lawdie’s school is there, too. For years, Lawdie has begged his parents to let him quit school, where he’s spent most of his time staring out the window while waiting for the bell signaling the end of classes. He performed so poorly in his first six years that he was shifted to Wade School, an “opportunity school” for underachieving and struggling students, to get a second chance and perhaps learn a trade.

But Lawdie wasn’t interested in any of that, and he played hooky more days than he’d care to admit. All he wanted to do was get outside and play ball.

Pietro isn’t against his son’s leaving school after the eighth grade. After all, once a boy learns how to read, write, and do basic arithmetic, what else does he need to know to find work as a laborer and one day provide for a family of his own? Like most boys on The Hill during the Depression, none of Pietro’s older sons finished school before going out and finding work.

But Pietro is convinced Lawdie’s poor performance in school is wrapped up in this obsession with playing ball—especially baseball. And that’s what has Pietro so damn angry with his youngest son. Lawdie isn’t begging to leave school so he can find a job, earn some money, and help the family. No, he wants to quit school so he can spend all his time playing ball. And that’s just not acceptable.

“Baseball is for bums—a waste of time!” says Pietro, fixing a hard glare at Lawdie. “You should have a job and work like your brothers. The family needs your help.”

Lawdie looks around the room for support. Both the priest and the principal agree that Lawdie doesn’t really belong in school. “Not everyone is a born scholar,” Father Palumbo says. But the priest and the principal think it’s time for Berra to stop playing ball and find a job.

Lawdie catches the eye of his mother, who hasn’t said a word. Paulina, a short, stocky woman with a big heart, only wants her son to be happy. Mom’s the one who sews up the tears in his one pair of not-for-church pants after another rough game so her son might escape his father’s wrath. And she’s the one who tells him whether Pietro is asleep when Lawdie comes home late so he can slip in the back door and avoid another punishment. Lawdie knows his mother would do anything for him, but expecting her to go against Pop is far too much.

And that’s when his three brothers step up.

“Dad, I’ll work extra hours at the bakery so Lawdie can get the chance to see if he can really play,” says Tony, who knows baseball scouts start tracking local players by the time they’re 13. “I think he can be a great player.”

“Pop, I’ll do the same,” Mike says. “Things are picking up. I can get more hours at the shoe factory.”

By the time John makes the same pledge, Lawdie can feel his parents’ resolve beginning to soften. “I’ll pick up jobs around playing baseball and bring in some money,” Lawdie promises, working hard to control his excitement when he sees his parents slowly nodding their heads in agreement. This meeting is working out far better than he had any reason to hope it would. His father agrees to allow him to quit school without finding a full-time job. Instead, he can do what Pietro forbade his three older sons from doing—continue to play baseball.

And he has his three brothers to thank.

Almost as relieved is Lawdie’s little sister Josie, who is listening to this drama play out from another room. Thank God they’re finally letting Lawdie leave school, Josie says to herself. If they didn’t, she’s pretty sure her brother Lawdie was going to lose his mind.

There is one school Lawdie Berra truly loves: the one run by the Works Progress Administration. The New Deal government program employs millions of Americans, who build and operate everything from schools and museums to parks and ball fields. Many of the teachers in this school are scouts from the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns. And there’s a rotating band of players that includes star Cardinal outfielders Enos Slaughter, Terry Moore, and—best of all—Joe Medwick, Lawdie’s favorite player.

This school’s classroom: the baseball fields of Sherman Park, an hour’s walk from Lawdie’s house.

The lessons: hitting, pitching, fielding, and base running.

Now, these are the lessons, Berra tells himself, that are going to help me get the only job I’ve ever wanted.

Berra doesn’t miss a day of this school, which runs from mid-June to mid-July of the summer of 1940. Neither does his best friend Joe Garagiola, who lives directly across the street on Elizabeth Avenue and rarely leaves his friend’s side. The pair are among the first to show up each morning and the last to leave, and several of the players and scouts are beginning to notice that there’s something special about these two kids. Cardinal scout Dee Walsh takes a liking to Garagiola, and one day invites him to work out at Sportsman’s Park, the home field for both St. Louis teams.

Lawdie couldn’t be happier for his friend. As for him? Well, he’s just thrilled with the chance to hear Medwick talk about hitting a baseball. Medwick burst onto the scene in 1933 as a 21-year-old .300 hitter with home run power. One season later he was an All-Star and an important cog in a World Series winner. He led the National League in home runs (31), runs batted in (154), and batting average (.374)—baseball’s Triple Crown—in 1937, and next month he’ll play in his seventh straight All-Star Game.

Best of all, he is a bad-ball hitter: Medwick will swing at anything, in or out of the strike zone, as long as he thinks—he knows—he can hit it. Just like Berra, who rarely sees a pitch he doesn’t think he can hit, no matter where it’s thrown. It’s little wonder Medwick is his idol.

By 1940, Berra and Garagiola are the best players in the two leagues run by the WPA and sponsored by the two St. Louis baseball teams. Lawdie, now 15 and a full eight months older than his friend, plays in the Junior League, for boys 15 to 17; Joey plays in the Midget League, for 12- to 14-year-olds. Both lead their teams to championship games played at Sportsman’s Park on July 10.

The day begins with Lawdie and Joey standing in a major league dugout, watching the Columbia School drum and bugle corps march out to center field for the flag-raising ceremony. The games are announced over the public address system, and the first is all about Garagiola. Playing catcher and right field, Joe raps out four hits and drives in three runs to lead his team to an easy 12–5 victory.

Then it’s Berra’s turn.

“Now batting third and playing second base for the Johnny Brocks, Larry Berra,” booms a voice over the PA system as Lawdie steps in and smacks a single, then comes around to score the first run in the second title game. Berra picks up another single, scores another run, and plays a flawless second base. When the game is over, the Johnny Brocks have a 7–5 win, the city title, and there’s Lawdie, standing on the field, clutching the championship trophy.

When all the cheering stops, the WPA officials announce they are extending the season another four weeks. Berra is thrilled and conflicted. It seems he is as uninterested in working as he was in school, and in the year since he left school he’s lost one job after another, all for the same reason—as soon as the morning turns into the afternoon and his friends are out playing ball, Lawdie simply walks off his job to find them.

He knew he’d catch a beating from his father each time, and he knew it would hurt, too. Pietro might only be five foot three and lean, but years of hard labor in the brickyard have made him powerfully strong, with hands that feel like stone when he’s meting out punishment. That’s the way discipline is enforced in every home on The Hill, and rarely does a father have to punish a son more than once for any given transgression.

But Lawdie is nothing if not stubborn. He remains convinced his future lies in baseball, by far the most popular game in all of America. Four more weeks playing WPA ball doesn’t leave much time to find or hold down a job. But Berra’s willing to take the beatings if it means he can still play ball.

The only question is how much longer Pietro Berra is willing to trade beatings for baseball. Sure, Lawdie is a local star, but that means little to his father. Tony, Mike, and John can go to bat for their little brother all they want. Sooner or later, the father of the house will decide it’s time for Lawdie Berra to grow up, forget this baseball nonsense, and get—and hold—a real job.

And as far as Papa Berra is concerned, that day is rapidly approaching.


Dago Hill


The legend of Lorenzo Pietro Berra—Lawdie’s proper name in Italian, the language of the Berra household—grew as he began to roam the playing fields of Dago Hill in southwest St. Louis.

As an athlete, he was unmatched. His classmates in grade school begged the left-handed Berra to bat right-handed in their baseball games because they only had one baseball and didn’t want to lose it on the roof of the Henry Shaw School, 250 feet away. Lawdie obliged—and hit the ball for homers anyway.

Former boxer Frank Mariani spotted the 13-year-old Lawdie, put the athletic youngster in the ring with older club fighters, and watched him win eight of nine matches, each for a prize of $5 to $10. Berra even avenged his one loss in a rematch. Paulina Berra worried about her young son in a boxing ring, but he kept coming home uninjured with money for the family.

It may have been an exaggeration that a teacher once asked Lawdie how he liked school and Lawdie replied, “Closed,” but it rang true. The kid was a genius on any playing field, a leader and a fierce competitor, but he often played hooky from school and doubted publicly that math would matter in his life.

Of course he didn’t get the big hit in every baseball game—it just felt that way—but he was a head-turning talent in almost any sport. Joey Garagiola swore that one night the two friends wandered into the local YMCA and found a Ping-Pong tournament under way. Lawdie, who had never held a paddle, picked one out, hit a few balls, and proceeded to reach the tournament final. Joey loved to tell these and other stories about Lawdie, who rarely told them himself.

Lawdie wasn’t even the star of his favorite story. At 13, he and pal Charlie Riva used to earn three-quarters of a cent per paper by selling the St. Louis Globe-Democrat on a corner for three cents. One afternoon, Lawdie sold a paper to a young athletic man who gave him a nickel and told him to keep the change. It was Joe Medwick, famous left fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and eventual Hall of Famer. The star and the charming kid talked baseball for a few minutes, and when Medwick said goodbye to him by name, Lawdie’s reputation soared. Medwick and his extra two-cent tip became regulars on Lawdie’s corner.

Nor did the unflappable Berra seem to mind getting razzed for everything from his favorite sandwich—a banana hero with mustard—to his slightly oversized head, especially in the summer, when all the boys were buzzed to the scalp. He just grinned when the other boys kidded his mangled English, the product of his Italian-language household and his uneasy relationship with school.

If ever someone felt comfortable in his skin, it was Lawdie Berra, beloved youngest son of a large, loyal Italian family. No teasing undercut those bonds. All kids on The Hill just belonged.

Still, Lawdie was different—a sparkling athlete in a strangely proportioned body, with a round face dominated by a big nose, heavy brow, and toothy grin. He and his affable, handsome buddy Joey were almost always together—teasing and punching each other playfully. Born exactly eight months apart—Lawdie on May 12, 1925, Joey the following February, at the height of the Roaring Twenties—they came of age together in the Great Depression. Their fathers kept steady jobs at the clay products factory, but money was short, and the boys sometimes shoplifted a little extra food with a simple scam: Joey chatted with a manager while Lawdie and the others stuffed their pockets.

They also knew how to pick off a real football to sell or trade. On game day at St. Louis University, Lawdie would wait outside the wall at one end of the field until an extra-point kick sailed into his arms. Turning and punting it 40 yards or more to a friend, the buddies relayed the ball away before anyone could come to retrieve it.

More often they scavenged, following the 39th Street market truck with its rotting vegetables and fruit to the town dump. Pocketknives in hand, they sifted the detritus for salvageable bits. Few of these boys went hungry at home, but good fruit and vegetables were jewels.

Lawdie was a quiet kid, but somehow also the neighborhood peacemaker and chief organizer, and in 1937 he convinced Joey and other friends to start a new sports club—the Stags Athletic Club. Just about every block had its own club, which competed fiercely—baseball, softball, street hockey, or soccer, a sport Lawdie loved almost as much as baseball and played with the same skill and joy. Their equipment was all used or improvised and shared with opposing teams—broom-handle hockey sticks and old-magazine shin guards. As long as Lawdie and his friends were playing sports, they were happy.

The Stags rented an abandoned garage as a neighborhood clubhouse for 12 cents a month. Their allowances couldn’t cover the rent, so they devised schemes to raise money. One was paying a dime for a pack of 20 cigarettes and selling them for a penny apiece. They also bagged manure dropped on the street by horses pulling merchant wagons, which they sold for 10 or 15 cents each to the neighborhood men to use as vegetable-garden fertilizer. If an adult tried to cut out the middleman, Lawdie and his friends formed a wall around their prize until it was whisked away by whoever drew the short straw that day.

Scrounging for cast-off couches and tables for their clubhouse, they talked for hours about the Cardinals—especially the “Gashouse Gang” of Dizzy Dean and Joe Medwick, which won the World Series in 1934. They played cards, talked about movies and radio programs like The Shadow, The Green Hornet, and Superman. On lucky days when they could buy—or pilfer—potatoes, they sat outside around a fire roasting them.

Some Saturday mornings, a neighborhood woman named Dominica Beltrami assembled the boys for a bus ride to Sportsman’s Park and free promotional seats—first come, first served—in the left field grandstand.

As they grew older, their conversations often turned to girls. These conversations rarely included the bashful Berra, who would cross the street to avoid talking to any young lady he might know.

All these adventures took place in the security of The Hill—crossing to the Irish neighborhood of Dogtown or to Dutchtown, where Germans had settled in the 1830s, invited brawls. All the boys in St. Louis might be Cardinals or Browns fans—but in the 1930s and ’40s, ethnic rivalries mattered most.

Soccer was still the only game the Italian fathers of The Hill understood, so Lawdie entered the Stags in the soccer tournament at the South Side YMCA. The Hill’s Southwestern drugstore gave them T-shirts, the closest thing to a uniform they’d ever had. The Stags won the Y’s soccer title and YMCA director Joe Causino always remembers the sound of Berra’s voice cutting through the whoops and hollers. “Now let’s go out and get the baseball trophy,” Lawdie shouted. Which they did.

There were three constants for the Stags: sports, church, and beer for their dads. Saturday was the day for a bath and Confession at St. Ambrose Church. They all attended Sunday Mass at 9 a.m. with their fathers, then Sunday school with Father Charles Koester—everyone’s favorite priest—while their mothers prepared the family’s Sunday feast. And once Prohibition ended in 1933, the boys were expected to meet their fathers at the end of every working day with a bucket of cold beer. When Lawdie, Joey, and their friends heard the 4:30 p.m. whistle at the Liggett & Myers tobacco factory—signaling the end of the day shift for factories across the city—they stopped whatever game they were playing and ran home, grabbed 15 cents and an ice bucket, and rushed down to Fassi’s Tavern to fill the buckets with ice and bottles of beer.

That bucket and beer had better be waiting for their fathers after a hard day’s work or there was hell to pay. Not even the game of baseball could compete with that.

In 1908, Pietro Berra was 22 and scratching out a living as a tenant farmer in the small village of Malvaglio, Italy, about 25 miles west of Milan. A year later he left Paulina, the woman he loved, boarded a steamer to America, and chased the American Dream from California to Colorado and finally to St. Louis, where he found work stoking the red-hot kilns that produced bricks at the Laclede-Christy Clay Products Company. He sent for Paulina, married, and started his family.

Pietro is proud of the life he’s carved out for his wife and their five children here on The Hill. (The couple’s daughter Josie arrived in 1930.) Money’s always been tight, but even in the worst year of the seemingly endless Great Depression, Pietro Berra has been a good provider—food on the table, a roof over their heads, and clothes, shoes, and coats to wear. Their quiet, tight-knit family has always been happy.

Pietro and his friend Giovanni Garagiola grew up in Italy together and arrived at The Hill about the same time, moving into shotgun houses across from each other on Elizabeth Avenue. By 1941, they had lived the same routine for a decade: standing together for the 7 a.m. truck that would take them and their neighbors to the Laclede-Christy factory, put in nine hours of hard labor, then pay another nickel to take the same truck back home.

Sometimes after work they would take carts made from bicycle parts and go to Forest Park—a huge, sprawling swath of land that is St. Louis’ version of New York’s Central Park—and salvage from the remains of the 1904 World’s Fair for parts to use on their houses on The Hill. Locals figure about 90 percent of the houses had parts from the World’s Fair.

By their mid-40s Pietro and Giovanni were still laboring hard and had talked for 10 years about almost everything—surviving the bank failures of the Great Depression by putting money in cans and burying them in their vegetable gardens, their fast-growing families (six sons and a daughter combined), and who won the previous night’s bocce games. But two things began to dominate their daily talks: their sons’ inexplicable fascination with baseball and the wave of worry among Italian-Americans as their adopted country moved closer to war in Europe.

Pietro and Giovanni knew all about the love affair St. Louis has with its baseball teams, especially the Cardinals. But they could never fathom the strong hold the game had on their sons. They heard their boys talk endlessly about Joe DiMaggio as if he were a god, but the cultural significance of this Italian ballplayer escaped them. The two men did not understand baseball offered the very path to American acceptance they craved for their families until Lawdie and Joe were well into their professional careers.

It hadn’t been easy being an Italian in America for Pietro Berra, Giovanni Garagiola, or many of the almost four million Italians who immigrated to the United States after the 1880s—the largest influx of immigrants from a single European nation in American history. They were greeted with suspicion at best, a lynch mob at worst. Many had darker complexions than the English, Irish, and German immigrants who had preceded them. They spoke a different language, enjoyed different food and customs, and practiced only one religion.

Their work ethic and strong arms and backs were sought to build a rapidly growing America, but Italian workers were often both underpaid and resented by other Americans looking for jobs. At the turn of the century, a public notice printed in New York City newspapers offered the following pay for laborers at the Croton Reservoir in Westchester County, New York:

Common labor, White $1.30–$1.50 a day

Common labor, Colored $1.25–$1.40 a day

Common labor, Italian $1.15–$1.25 a day

On March 14, 1891, an angry mob had stormed a jail in New Orleans, pulled out nine Italian men accused of murdering the chief of police, grabbed two more off the street, and hanged them all, the largest mass lynching in American history. Another five Italians were lynched in New Orleans eight years later. Between 1880 and 1920, at least 50 Italians were lynched, and during his Memorial Day speech in St. Louis in 1917, former President Teddy Roosevelt insisted that all immigrants must speak English and become “Americans,” not people with hyphenated identities like Italian-Americans.

The Hill’s 52 square blocks had been a safe haven for Italians since they first arrived in 1880 to work in the numerous St. Louis clay mines. Most immigrants were working poor, like other Americans in the 1930s and ’40s, but Dago Hill was no high-rise tenement slum. Its tiny front lawns and shotgun houses—15 feet wide and three rooms long, a bargain for about $2,500—were fastidiously kept. Vegetables and fruit grew in side yards, an outhouse sat in back, and most painted front porches sheltered carved-stone Catholic icons. There were plenty of trees but no telephone lines until the mid- to late 1940s—more than 40 years after the telephone came to St. Louis.

Like Pietro and Giovanni, many of The Hill’s men worked in one of the clay products factories or in tobacco factories making cigarettes and cigars. When Prohibition was repealed, most of the hidden stills disappeared and St. Louis’ Anheuser-Busch company equipped and trained new tavern owners on The Hill. Fine neighborhood restaurants dotted the community, and a handful—like Biggie’s Steak House and Ruggeri’s—were known nationwide.

Customs brought from Italy defined The Hill. Dinner in the Berra household didn’t start until Pop had finished his beer and his plate was full. Spaghetti, bread, and salad always accompanied the meat, and any special occasion included ravioli. Sunday’s feast lasted almost all day—antipasto, risotto, salads, and pasta before the main course of chicken and beef. There was always food on the Berra table.

But wasting nothing was an article of faith, sometimes learned the hard way. In his customary seat at his father’s side, young Lawdie one evening ate most but not all of the bread he took, a mistake he’d made before. But this night, as he pulled away from the dinner table, his father’s strong right hand flashed across Lawdie’s face, almost lifting him from his seat.

“What did I do?”


  • "If you're a lifetime baseball fan, you'd rather be watching an early-season major-league game now instead of recycled classics during this plague year. But Mr. Pessah's book is as good a proxy for baseball pleasure as you're going to find. It's a relaxed, sprawling affair-like those Yankee Stadium Sunday double-headers...This is a heart-warming narrative with a heroic protagonist who overcomes every imaginable obstacle to achieve greatness."—Edward Kosner, Wall Street Journal
  • "Now, when the baseball season would normally be in its early days, Jon Pessah's biography Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask arrives to help fill the void. It's a book that covers the funny quotes and the exceptional career, but also the complicated and sensitive person often obscured by the image."—John Williams, New York Times
  • "Pessah proves to be the only writer of baseball books who you would stand on line for hours to get copies of his work, on the day the publisher stocks store shelves."—Observer-Dispatch
  • "An incredible read."—Pittsburgh Post Gazette
  • "Better reading could hardly be found."—The Spectator
  • "Pessah provides a gripping account of the Yankees' postwar dynasty, but he also generates excitement for Berra's stint with the Mets, most notably the 1973 Amazin's. Where he excels is in probing the relationships in Berra's baseball career... The book also expertly situates Berra's life in historical context. Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask lives up to a Herculean task, offering a fresh look at a player ubiquitous in American culture. It will fit nicely on any Yankees fan's bookshelf."—Pinstripe Alley/SB Nation
  • "While a number of books have been written about Yogi Berra, none are as comprehensive as this in-depth account by sportswriter Pessah ...A thorough, engaging read for Berra fans and Yankee admirers."—Library Journal
  • "The funny anecdotes and exciting play-by-play from baseball's golden age will keep Berra's legions of fans happy."

    Publishers Weekly
  • "A vigorous biography of the New York Yankees legend... Yogi emerges as a man who was more thoughtful than many give him credit for...A welcome life of the Yankees icon and worthwhile reading for any baseball buff."—Kirkus
  • "Yogi Berra is a poster boy for the greatest generation; both a man of great character and a ... great character! His journey from "The Hill" to Normandy to Yankee hero to American icon is inspiring. Thank you Jon Pessah for making this book necessary!"—Marty Appel, Yankee historian and author of Pinstripe Empire,Munson and Casey Stengel
  • "Here's a contender for baseball book of the year. Pessah's Yogi is as warm, winning and entertaining as its subject-certain to be the definitive biography of an American legend."—Jonathan Eig, authorof Luckiest Man, Opening Day, and Ali: A Life
  • "Yogi Berra is the greatest winner of all time and one of baseball's most lovable, fascinating, and iconic players. Jon Pessah brings Yogi to life, from his childhood, to his brilliance as a Yankee, to his importance as a cultural icon. I thought I understood Yogi's life and career, but I learned something new on virtually every page."—TimKurkjian, senior baseball writer/analyst, ESPN
  • "Jon Pessah's meticulously sourced Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask immediately becomes essential for anyone interested in the life of a true American icon. The book is a serious and thoughtful treatment of a life that was a good deal more complex than most people realize. Throughout, it's Yogi's warmth, love of his family and loyalty to them and his friends that drive this narrative. Yogi Berra was a beautiful person with a big heart, and this biography more than does him justice. Simply put-a great read for any baseball fan."—Joe Garagiola Jr., Special Advisor to the President/CEO Arizona Diamondbacks
  • "Jon Pessah is not just an author who recounts history. He is a talented storyteller, as his critically acclaimed The Game illustrated. Now he has used his passion and prose to give us Yogi, a rich and poignant portrait of one of America's most beloved sports icons."—Clare Smith, JG Spink Award winner (2017) and ESPN Coordinating Editor/Baseball
  • "If Yogi Berra wasn't a true story, nobody could make him up. Or maybe a brilliant storyteller like Jon Pessah could! But thanks to Yogi, Pessah doesn't have to."—-Rob Neyer, author of Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game
  • Yogi is a masterwork...Jon Pessah expertly reveals the powerful influence of one of baseball's, and perhaps all of America's, most golden-hearted and well-beloved characters."—Tyler Kepner, author of K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

On Sale
Apr 6, 2021
Page Count
576 pages
Back Bay Books

Jon Pessah

About the Author

Jon Pessah is the New York Times bestselling author of The Game, a critically-acclaimed examination of the power brokers who built the major league baseball into a multi-billion dollar business. A founding editor of ESPN the Magazine, where he ran the investigative team, Pessah has also managed the sports departments for Newsday and the Hartford Courant.

Learn more about this author