The manager of the New York Yankees was walking past his bench here last week when his third baseman stuck his head out of the dugout and said, "Pssst, come here. There's somebody you gotta meet."
Yogi Berra threw his arm around his youngest son Dale's neck and together they ran up the tunnel to the clubhouse like a couple of happy kids.
Inside, Dale Berra introduced his beaming father to his friend Boom Boom Mancini, the former middleweight champ. Ballplayers and fighters have always been a good mix, each fascinated with and almost in awe of the other. Bringing Mancini into camp was Dale's way of saying that, although his father might be in the Hall of Fame, the son was no slouch.
Baseball had never seen a significant father-son manager-player combo until Dale Berra, traded by Pittsburgh, got here for the start of spring training. Connie Mack and son pulled publicity stunts, but Yogi and Dale are the first to traverse this complex Freudian battleground. Or, as Yogi put it Friday, "I hope he plays good. But if he don't, he sits.
"Only difference (in managing a son)," said Yogi, "is that I guess I'll have to make out the lineup before I leave home so (wife) Carmen'll know if Dale's playing. Course, she might come, anyway. I might put him in late."
If baseball had to wait 116 years for a father-son tandem, it really should have been the Berras. Yes, this is the same Yogi who, upon receiving a check inscribed "Pay to bearer," said, "How long you known me? And you still can't spell my name."
Just two weeks ago, Berra struck again. Asked about Rickey Henderson, Berra said, "He can run anytime he wants. I'm giving him the red light."
Some tease Yogi about whether the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Dale can really be the child of 5-7 Yogi and 5-3 Carmen. They should never doubt it. On Friday, Dale said, "My weakness is that I'm not a heady player. I concentrate so hard that I make mental mistakes."
"Yeah, we say those things," admitted Dale. "I think I got the best Berraism. Charlie Feeney (a Pittsburgh reporter) asked me once to compare myself to my father and I said, 'Basically, all our similarities are different.'
"Charlie came back in few minutes and said, 'Did you say what I think you did?' I said, 'I guess I did.' "
There's something about the sweet good fortune that follows Yogi Berra around that gives you a bit more confidence about the order of things.
As honest as he is dumpy, as savvy about baseball as he is oblivious to world events, as smart about people as he is dumb about syntax, as good a husband and father as he is bashful and uncomfortable in any sort of spotlight, Berra is a legend for his luck.
Berra never pushes for anything, shrugs when he's fired or disappointed, and, in the end, at 58, has ended up with it all: 358 home runs, the Yankee managing job, an envy-of-all marriage, and three successful sons, including one (Tim) who played wide receiver for the Giants and Colts.
As for Dale, after establishing himself in '82 and '83 as a quality shortstop who could rack up 40 extra-base hits, drive in 60 runs and bat .260, Berra was a bust in '84. He batted just .222, tied for the NL lead in errors (30), got so husky he lost his middle-infielder's agility and had elbow problems that disabled him.
Then, in December, he got married and traded to the Yankees within days. "Best week of my life," says the 28-year-old, who's been told by Yogi that he'll platoon at third against lefties.
"Fortunately, I didn't get traded to Cleveland," Dale said, laughing. "Of course, the Yankees were the team I always wanted to play for, but you never dream it'll happen.
"It would be easier for my dad and I if he were still the (Yankees) first base coach. But I decide my own fate. It's not up to him. If I play poorly, there will be a lot of pressure. If I play well, the possibilities are limitless."
Yogi is known for calming nervous players; that describes his son. "I'm hyper on the field, very talkative, in constant motion," said Dale. "I don't know where I get that. My dad was quiet. And his little short dumpy body could hit better than my 'good' body. I don't have that intuitive thing going for me that he did. When I'm going good, I flow. You make plays you don't think you can make. But sometimes I think too much and try too hard."
And sometimes he's too old-school, never asking out of the lineup. Don't mention Chuck Tanner to him. "You'd think that if you made 15 errors in one month and hit .110, the manager would figure out something was wrong with you," he said. "He (Tanner) never did . . . I don't ask out and I don't buy that 'I-hated-the-manager' excuse.
"Being 'happy' has nothing to do with playing baseball. You give your best, no matter who the manager is."
Despite standard New York City hype, the Yankee trio of third baseman Mike Pagliarulo and shortstops Andre Robertson and Bobby Meacham is a mediocre gang of "prospects." Berra's had better all-around years in the majors than they've had in the minors.
Circumstance, or Berra luck, seems to be conspiring again to let Dale and Yogi have the best possible chance for success. That will make plenty of people happy. "Yogi's tickled about it," said Whitey Ford. "I think the kid'll do good. Yogi'll break him in slow to the New York crowd . . . If he misses too many signs, Yogi'll chew his butt good."
The stage is as well set as it could be. Dale Berra, in his prime, has the security of a four-year contract, plus the triple inspirations of a new marriage, a new hometown team and a chance to play for his father.
"He was a great father. People think he was never home. He was always home," said Dale. "My father's a very nice man . . . For a while, I wondered what I should call him. But we lived in the same house for 27 years, so I've decided on 'Dad.' "