With the death of Yogi Berra, 90, on Tuesday, here is a nice story of Berra's friendship and loyalty.
Jim Gleeson leveled the palm of his hand about two feet off the sod near the batter’s circle at Comiskey Park.
“The first time I met Yogi Berra,” he said, “there was about this much snow on the ground.
“It was in January of 1945 . . . at the New London (Conn.) submarine base. Yogi had just come up from Norfolk with a group of men who were being reassigned.
“If you can picture him now with a white hat and blue uniform on, that’s how he looked then. About 190 pounds, no neck and tough as nails.”
Gleeson serves as first base coach of the Yankees today. He owes his job to Yogi who never forgot their association during the final year of World War II.
When they first met, Lt. James Joseph Gleeson was in charge of the athletic and physical fitness program at New London, and S2-c Lawrence Berra, who had been on a rocket ship in the Normandy Invasion, was wondering why in blazes he had been reassigned to a submarine base.
“It so happened,” recalled Gleeson, “we had a commander who was a great baseball fan. The year before, we had a lousy ball club. I was the only guy on the team who had played professional ball.
“One day, a yeoman comes up to me and says, ‘The commander wants to see you.’
“I was wondering what I did wrong. I go into the commander’s office and stand at attention. ‘We don’t have much of a ball club, do we?’ he says. 'No, sir,’ I say. “’all we need are a catcher, a shortstop, second baseman, a couple of pitchers and an outfielder. 'We’ll take care of that,’ says the commander.”
Thus, in due time, the Navy channeled Berra to New London, and he played for the base team the following spring.
“You could see right away the guy was going to be a good hitter,” said Gleeson, “by the way he swung the bat. He could hit balls that were over his head or on the ground . . . and hit them with authority.”
That spring, when he wasn’t catching, Yogi played right field and Gleeson, center, for the base.
“Once Mel Ott dropped by,” recalled Gleeson. “He was managing the New York Giants. ‘You got any good-looking prospects?’ he asks me. “I told him, ‘Yeah, wait’ll you see this guy Berra.’
“’Who does he belong to?’ asks Ott. ‘I tell him the Yankees. After Ott gets a look at Berra, the next thing I hear Horace Stoneham of the Giants is offering the Yankees $50,000 for Berra.”
In time, Gleeson and Berra parted ways, and Yogi began his climb to the majors.
But, the friendship between them was cemented, and last year when Berra was named manager of the Yankees, he wasted no time asking Gleeson to be one of his coaches.
“It was nice of him to think of me after all those years,” recalled Gleeson, whose quick Irish wit provides a delightful change of pace to the crusty manners of guys like Roger Maris and Frank Crosetti.