Author Adds Berra, Guidry Autograph Insights

Last week, I cheered for the new book Driving Mister Yogi.

I’m grateful that author Harvey Araton has shared with us some autograph insights about the two stars of his new title.

Q: A few lucky collectors have received autographs from Yogi, often writing in care of spring training. Mostly, requests are returned with a price list asking for $100 per signed card. What did you learn about Yogi’s fan mail?

A: The subject of fan mail did not come up with Yogi but as you know, Yogi is 86 turning 87 and can only sign on a limited basis. His sons, Tim and Dale, run the family’s business, establish their own guidelines and what people receive presumably comes from them.

Q: Ron Guidry has been just as tough to collect through the mail. The only responses in the last few years have come in care of spring training. What did “Gator” say about autographs?

A: Ron is very private person, so the notion of answering fan requests from home is highly unlikely. He does a number of shows every year, generally timing them to his visits to New York for Yogi’s golf tournament in June, Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium and Hall of Fame induction weekend, which he usually attends with Yogi (though that is on a year-to-year basis at this point.)

Q: Many readers might hope to get their copies of “Driving Mister Yogi” autographed by the two main characters. Any suggestions?

A: Yogi and Ron did 3 separate signings for “Driving Mr. Yogi” this week and I believe signed close to 2000 books. There are no other dual signings scheduled though I believe Ron is doing one in the Lafayette, La. area this month. I would think they would sign the book together in Cooperstown this summer.

Q: Of course, collectors would want you to autograph their book, too. I don’t think mailing books to your newspaper would be a good idea. Are there signed bookplates or other possibilities?

A: No, the Times would not appreciate books showing up at the office so I would not recommend that. The only signing I have scheduled right now is at Words in Maplewood, NJ in June.

Thanks again, Harvey.

Coming Friday: Remembering Ernie Harwell through a son’s new book

‘Driving Mr. Yogi’ 2012 Bookshelf MVP

Author Harvey Araton saved the best for last.

Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball’s Greatest Gift is a title worth remembering. Yankee fans who judge a book by its cover will be sold immediately.

Red Sox fans and anyone else ambivalent about the Bronx Bombers will be glad to know that the “gift” is friendship. The story revolves around how spring training reunited the pair in 1999. Berra befriended Guidry years earlier as a pitcher.

So much of Driving is off the field. Guidry looks after the senior citizen, driving him to and from the Florida ballpark or sharing evening dinners.

In the process, their friendship deepens, despite a quarter-century age gap. Guidry shows up at Berra’s museum in New Jersey or a Cooperstown autograph signing. (Readers learn that Berra averages $20,000 to $50,000 per autograph appearance these days.)

Unlike other authors, Araton paints a complete picture of Berra. This is about far more than quirky sayings. This book describes the pride that powered a 14-year standoff with team owner George Steinbrenner. 

Araton eavesdrops on conversations between the unlikely duo. Guidry is fiercely loyal. Berra isn’t the comical chatterbox past press accounts have claimed. Together, they reveal that the same uniform was just the beginning of all they have in common. One of the author’s greatest accomplishments is allowing us to see Berra through Guidry’s eyes, and vice versa.

Autograph collectors even get some juicy tidbits in this tale. For instance:

Former team public relations director Rick Cerrone tells of asking Berra to autograph the 1984 Sports Illustrated cover.

“What should I write?” Berra had asked.

“How about ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over’? Cerrone had said.

Berra had nodded and written, “Best Wishes.”

Coach Stump Merrill told of picking up Yogi from their spring training hotel. Merrill would rescue Berra from mobs of autograph seekers.

Merrill noted that Berra was concerned about collectors wanting autographs for resale. “I signed for you yesterday.”

From page 203, Berra sounds more like a collector than signer.

“With a fresh stack of magazines in front of him, Berra resumed signing, firmly and meticulously, nothing like the standard celebrity scribble. He took his cue on that from the men he considered the masters of legibility. Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.

“They had beautiful signatures,” Berra said in a reverent tone. He bristled over how modern players’ signatures tended to be indistinguishable. For clarity’s sake, whenever Berra asked one of the kids like Evan Longoria to sign a ball, he would also request that they write their number under the name.”

I’ve seen one reviewer speculate that George Clooney could play Guidry and Ed Asner Berra in the movie version of the book. I’d second that notion. Driving Mr. Yogi is a fascinating, insightful tale of friendship reaching across generations. Don’t miss this title.

Coming Friday: How do former players feel about their baseball cards? Here’s the blogger who knows!