Tributes continue to pour in about Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame baseball player and manager, who died late Tuesday at the age of 90. Berra had an illustrious baseball career, but how many people know he was once offered a job to work in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson?
Berra’s New York Yankees had just lost the 1964 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. On Friday, Oct. 16, just one day after that fateful seventh game, the first-year manager was summoned to the Yankees offices in midtown Manhattan. He thought it was for a meeting to discuss his return as manager for the 1965 season. Instead, Yankees co-owner Dan Topping fired Berra, shocking the baseball world. Berra was offered a job as an assistant to general manager Ralph Houk.
Meanwhile, LBJ, who had assumed the presidency less than a year before, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was attempting to win the office in his own right. Johnson was in the midst of an election campaign against the Republican nominee Barry Goldwater. He was also launching his “Great Society” and had enlisted JFK’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to run the government’s anti-poverty office. The same day Shriver was sworn in to assume his government post, Berra was fired. Shriver wasted little time in reaching out to the baseball icon.
The fourth paragraph of the front page story about Berra’s dismissal in the Saturday, October 17, 1964 edition of the New York Times included the following:
“Upon hearing of Berra’s release, Sargent Shriver – who had been sworn in earlier in the day as director of the Government’s war on poverty – sought Berra for a top-level position with the bureau’s youth program. An aide to the poverty drive chief said Berra turned down the job, with regret.”
For the moment, anyway, Berra had decided to accept the Yankees’ two-year contract to be Houk’s “special field consultant.”
Berra would never assume the job to which he agreed, instead went on to coach and manage both the Mets and the Yankees for a second-time. His career in politics was over, before it was over, although in another sense, it never really ended. Politicians for years would quote Berra, a practice, I suspect, that will continue.