ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — It was a closer call for Yogi Berra than people might think. But as to whether the Hall of Fame baseball player, humanitarian and phraseologist was to be considered for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, time nearly ran out.
According to his granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, 100,000 signatures had to be collected on a petition within 30 days and submitted to the White House for her grandfather to be considered for the award. And getting those signatures, even for a man whose accomplishments and persona are legendary, was not easy.
A resident of Montclair, and part of the D-Day invasion, Berra, who had turned 90 on May 12 and died Sept. 22, received the award posthumously on Tuesday, Nov. 25. It was accepted, from President Barack Obama, by Berra’s son, Larry, who is Lindsay’s father.
In a telephone interview, Lindsay, 38, said family members got the idea to have the senior Berra considered for the award sometime after Major League Baseball player Stan Musial received one. The award came to Musial in 2010. He died Jan. 19, 2013, at the age of 92. A total of 12 major league players have received the award to date.
“We thought his 90th birthday would be a good time,” Lindsay said about having her grandfather being considered for the award.
The online campaign for Berra started May 10. Signatures were taken at the website of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. Over the next month, Lindsay said she appeared on every TV program and radio show that would have her.
“And when I got home, I tweeted like a lunatic,” she said. “It was literally the hardest thing I had ever done. I worked my butt off.”
On the last day of the campaign, Berra was 30,000 signatures short.
“I was surprised it took as long as it did,” Lindsay said of the slow response from people. “But we got 40,000 names on the last day.”
According to the museum website, the petition for Berra was signed by 111,627 people. Lindsay gave credit to the New York Yankees organization and Major League Baseball for helping put her grandfather over the top. She said after the petition was submitted to the White House, the Berra family received word about six weeks later that it would be considered. Then they waited.
Bloomfield resident, Heather Carr, who retired in June 2015 as Berkeley Elementary School principal, said Berra and her father, American Football League quarterback Frank Tripucka, were friendly and had good times together.
“Yogi had World Series movies and on New Year’s Day, we’d go over to his house and watch them,” Carr said in a telephone interview recently.
Berra won 10 World Series rings as a Major League Baseball player, the most of any player, and another three rings as a coach.
Carr also remembered a trip both families made to New England because of an additional sports connection: both Berra and her father had a son playing football for the University of Massachusetts. Carr said her brother, Mark, and Berra’s son, Tim, were also college roommates and have remained friends. She said at the end of their lives, her father and Berra were in the same assisted living facility in Livingston.
Lindsay said her family heard back from the White House during the last week of October that her grandfather would be receiving the award. The ceremony took place at the White House Tuesday, Nov. 24. Lindsay said she had mixed feelings.
“I was very proud, but it was bittersweet,” she said. “I was mostly sad that he wasn’t there. I felt I came up short for my grandfather who never came up short.”
But she said the visit to the White House was still special.
“The president is such a charismatic speaker,” she said. “He made it personal and touching. And it was really neat seeing my father on stage.”
If her grandfather would have been there, receiving the award, Lindsay said he would have wondered what he was doing on same stage with scientists and other noteworthy people. She expressed a similar feeling for herself about her grandfather.
“By the time I was old enough to understand that my grandfather was a famous person, it was hard to reconcile,” she said. “He was two people. He was my grandfather and a famous person. After he died, the public reaction was overwhelming. It was hard to realize his reach was so large.”