The Corner

When Yogi Met Milton

While Yogi Berra was coaching for the Astros, his friend and coauthor Tom Horton arranged a breakfast with Yogi and Milton Friedman in San Francisco. The Houston Post ran a headline on the sports page, “Odd Couple’s Breakfast,” but the two men got along splendidly despite the fact that Yogi admitted “he [Friedman] is not a baseball fan, and I am not as much a money fan as most people think I am.” Berra thought America’s most famous economist to be the opposite of Casey Stengel: “When he [Stengel] finished talking, people scratched their heads . . . when he [Friedman] finished talking, everything is clearer.”

Inevitably, the discussion turned to money. Friedman asked Berra what jobs he had before baseball, and Yogi told him about working in the shoe factory back in St. Louis for $60 a week. In return, “I got a speech on Adam Smith. He was a Scottish economist who did some of the same sorts of labor-savings things in a pin factory that we did in a shoe factory.” Yogi told Friedman he gave his mother his entire paycheck and that she gave him back $2. Of course you did that, Friedman told him, you were a good son. Yet another topic of discussion was Little League baseball. Berra had made some criticisms of Little League ball in USA Today — too much competition and organization, he felt, and not enough actual play. Friedman agreed with Yogi, adding, “A lot of our life is too organized.”

Finally, they talked about literature. Berra told him the story about meeting Ernest Hemingway at Toots Shor’s and asking him what paper he worked for. Friedman laughed heartily and told Yogi that he thought Hemingway’s two best books were The Sun Also Rises and The Fisherman and the Sea. “He meant The Old Man and the Sea,” Yogi said later. “Do you suppose anyone called him on it? No. Suppose I had said the same thing?”

Berra’s concern was “Who was going to spring for breakfast? I knew it would go for $50 plus tip.” Who did pay is not recorded, but according to Yogi, “He said that if I had been in his class, I would have gotten a good grade.” Shortly before his death in 2006, Friedman said, “I don’t remember telling Yogi that, but it’s probably true. I think he had a good grasp of basic economic principles, apparently much better than some of the better educated people in the Yankees front office that he used to negotiate salaries with. One thing he said that I have always remembered is ‘A nickel isn’t worth a dime any more.’ He was right.”

– Allen Barra is a sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal. This is excerpted with permission from his new book, Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009).

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