Yogi the Great

The return to Yankee Stadium

April 9, 1999

After 14 years, Berra Returns to Yankee Stadium

SportsLine wire reports

NEW YORK -- Wandering through the halls that twist and turn in the catacombs of Yankee Stadium, Yogi Berra could have used a road map.

"I had to find my way back," Berra said after ending a 14-year exile and returning to throw out the first pitch on opening day Friday. "I got lost. I've got to get my bearings. It's a lot different. They fixed it up so much."

TAKING OVER A FIRST-PITCH ROLE the late Joe DiMaggio held for so long, Berra walked slowly out of the Yankees dugout, favoring a gimpy right knee, as a sellout Stadium crowd roared.

After Bob Sheppard introduced him as "a great leader and a man of conviction," Berra tossed the ceremonial pitch from in front of the mound to catcher Joe Girardi.

Berra, who played for 10 World Series championship teams with the Yankees, vowed he would never return to the Stadium after owner George Steinbrenner fired him as manager after just 16 games in 1985. He resisted repeated overtures to return for games, even when former teammates attempted to intercede.

"I've been asking him to come back for years," said old batterymate Whitey Ford, who joined Phil Rizzuto to raise the 1998 World Series championship banner. "I told him, 'I don't care what you think of Steinbrenner. The people miss you.'"

This winter, spurred by DiMaggio's illness, Steinbrenner apologized to Berra and the feud was settled.

BERRA ARRIVED AT THE STADIUM early Friday and visited interim manager Don Zimmer, a friend who coached with Berra during one of Billy Martin's terms as Yankee manager.

"Yogi and I became really close the last three years," said Zimmer, who returned to the team in 1996 as bench coach for Joe Torre. "Yogi would call me four or five times each summer, saying, 'How ya doin', kid? How ya doin', kid?' We became very close."

In the moments before the first pitch, Berra sat on the Yankees bench, flanked by his two pals -- Zimmer on one side, Ford on the other. The Yankees cap fit just like the old days.

"I was a little nervous out there," he said. "The first day, you're always a little nervous."

Especially after 14 years away.

Berra said the feud with Steinbrenner never affected his feelings for the team.

"I was always a Yankees fan," he said. "I rooted for them. I watched on TV."

But, he added, it was time for the quarrel to be settled.

"I was happy to come in today," Berra said. "I'm glad it's over with. It's good to be back. Everything worked out fine."

Berra said he'd return to the stadium later this month when the Yankees unveil a monument to DiMaggio.

"Maybe some other games, too," he said.

FORD WAS SURPRISED TO BE INCLUDED in first-day ceremonies. He said he remembered pennants being raised.

"I was usually in the bullpen, warming up," he said.

Then, in the stream of consciousness fashion that is uniquely Yogi, Berra wondered out loud about the flag.

"Was it heavy?" he asked Ford.

"Nah," the old pitcher replied. "I was worried about Rizzuto,though."

No problem. The banner went up without a hitch, and so did Berra's first pitch.

"It was not bad," Berra said. "I thought I'd do worse, but I did all right."