There is a tinge of irony that on the day Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were dealing with the heavy-handed ruling by the NFL, politicians on New Jersey were circulating a petition to have Yogi Berra recognized for The Presidential Medal of Freedom. While many opined about the issue of the Brady brand for the long term (there won’t be much damage if any), the Berra brand, on the Hall of Famer’s 90th birthday, is one to be cherished, and not just for his prolific baseball career. There are very few individuals in the New Jersey lore transcends the era in which they made their mark. Springsteen, Lombardi, Senator Bill Bradley, President Woodrow Wilson, Sinatra would fit the mold. And then there is Yogi.
Yogi Berra’s legacy is as vibrant today as it was when the St.Louis native first arrived in the area to take the first steps as a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees. The difference today is that Berra legacy is not just about sports or his Italian American heritage or even his larger than life presence in and around Montclair, New Jersey. It is about pride, consistency, leadership and education, a legacy which can now be told year-round to an even larger audience with the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, hard by the first base line of Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University.
The Center underwent a $3.2 million renovation in 2011, and houses plenty of things Yogi, and features new video displays and other tidbits to enhance the experience, as well as the stadium shaped auditorium, which hosts more programs dedicated not just to baseball, but to learning experiences for all ages, with programs that focus on sportsmanship and social justice, two traits Berra has always held in high regard on and off the diamond.
But how can Berra’s legacy, built on malapropisms and baseball, withstand such a test of time? The key comes from the man himself, someone who was able to balance a successful business career in the offseason with a legendary career on the field. A man who stood by his principals and rarely bent the rules, and went on to take those same ideals to the front office, leading both the Mets and Yankees to the World Series.
In a time where athletes were not really known for thinking long-term for business, the Yogi brand was seen on Yoo-hoo and Wiffle Balls, even a spot withWiffle Balls, in commercials and card shows, and was never associated with anything that was controversial in nature. It is a brand that stands for loyalty and family, and as the years go on, has incorporated stronger social values and education into the plan as well. All of those factors speak very clearly in a challenged society, and have made the museum and learning center so much more than the precious artifacts it has and the events it holds. It speaks to a larger societal issue of positive values and dedication to community, which is really why the Yogi brand has continued so long. Yes it is about a quirky former ballplayer and the stories he can still tell so well. But more importantly it stands for quality in a world where sometimes quantity is placed on a higher level and the quick win is better than long term success.
That is not to say that leadership in athletics or entertainment is fully compromised today. A legion of leaders both in and away from sport can point to what Berra built as a standard for what they have tied themselves to today, even with all that goes on and the microscope anyone of note is under today. As far as Brady goes, his reputation for the long term will also survive and thrive in all likelihood. However for a lasting brand that has transcended time largely unscathed, one could look to the Yankee legend as a standard-bearer, and one who is deserving of any honor, event from POTUS, more now than ever.