SportsJam with Doug Doyle: Sports Journalist Lindsay Berra

Dec 16, 2019

Sports Journalist Lindsay Berra is a board member at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

Sports journalist Lindsay Berra, the oldest grandchild of Yogi and Carmen Berra, refers to herself as a multi-platform storyteller. 

Having the legendary New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher as a grandfather can prompt lots of great stories and she shares many of them on this edition of SportsJam.

Lindsay Berra and host Doug Doyle met at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University to talk about her career as both a sportswriter and an athlete, her passions and her famous family.

Lindsay is also a board member at the Yogi Berra Musueam and Learning center.  She says there are a lot of things that are special about the museum.

"First of all what I immediately think of is that when we first built it 20 years ago grandpa used to love coming here and he used to tell people usually when you have a museum you're dead and he was very excited that he could be around to see his museum.  The New Jersey Jackals and the Montclair State baseball team both play on the field that is adjacent to us here and grandpa used to just come and sit outside in our skybox and watched batting practice.  He just loved being around baseball.  He would come here and kind of sneak up on kids who were here in school groups and going up behind one of them who was touching a bat and say 'Hey kid, stop touching my stuff!'  He really like to be here and be involved.  But now that he's gone it's so emblematic of the life that he lived and his legacy.  We have all this cool stuff here. We have his World Series rings, we have his MVP plaques, gloves and jerseys and things like that but we definitely like to put the emphasis on the Learning Center part of things. Teamwork, leadership, treating people with respect, embracing diversity, being a humble person were very representative of what grandpa was and we teach those values to kids in character education programs here.  I think that's the biggest part of his legacy that lives on in this place."  

The latest exhibit at the museum is in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues in 2020.  This traveling exhibit named "Discover Greatness: An Illustrated History of Negro Leagues Baseball" is up through June 20, 2020.  90 photographs document the history of black ballpayers through history, including many of Yogi Berra's friends like Jackie Robinson, Monte Irvin and Larry Doby.

This is one of Lindsay's favorite photos of her and her grandpa
Credit Lindsay Berra

Lindsay Berra talked about her special relationship with her grandfather and grandmother Carmen.

"So many people lose their grandparents when they're young.  I was very lucky to have mine until I was, my grandmother died when I was 36, my grandfather when I was 38, so I got to have these grown-up adult relationships with these people who were such incredible humans.  I could talk to my grandfather about anything, be it if I was having problems at work, I would talk through story ideas with him.  I would talk to him about dating.  There was nothing I couldn't talk about with either one of my grandparents.  They were my friends as much as they were grandparents to me.  Being able to spend the little moments was great, but then again things like Yogi Berra Day at the stadium, those things were pretty cool.  But he was almost two different people in my mind.  He was the grandpa I had at home, even though they were kind of the same, and the Yogi Berra that you saw on TV."  

Even though her grandfather was one of the most famous baseball players to ever play the game, it was Yogi's love of hockey that was instilled in Lindsay at early age. 

"Grandpa always had this life-long of hockey.  There's some great video of him and Phil Rizzuto at the 1958 Stanley Cup Finals where they're talking about the game and he analyzing Richard and the Bruins' puck movement.  He really was very knowledgeable about it.  Later in life he becomes friendly with John McMullen who owned the Colorado Rockies when they were the hockey team.  He brought them to New Jersey as the Devils.  When I was five years old, when they first came here in 1982, my grandpa took me to my first professional hockey game.  So I learned to skate right around the same time grandpa was taking me to these Devils games and I just really fell in love with hockey.  When I got to high school, I played boys hockey growing up just because there wasn't a lot of girls hockey at the time.  When I wanted to try out for the hockey team grandpa was all behind it. He was always super supportive of it.  He loved to come and watch me play."  

Lindsay would go on to play men's club hockey and varsity softball at the University of North Carolina. 

Lindsay Berra skating at the Wayne Gretzky Camp in 2004 in Arizona. Berra played men's club hockey at the University of North Carolina
Credit Lindsay Berra

In 2004 when Lindsay was working for ESPN The Magazine, she got to share the ice with several hockey legends including Wayne Gretzky, Phil Esposito and Paul Coffey.  Gretzsky assisted on several Berra goals that day.

"I was invited to play in Wayne Gretzky's fantasy camp which at the time was in Arizona.  It's in Vegas now. Wayne rotated through the teams that were there so you everybody got to play with him.  I happened to be on his team a couple of different times. One of the ways I was able to get away with playing with guys who were so much bigger and stronger and faster than I was, was that I was smart and I would get to the spot where I needed to be, do what I needed to do and then 'Get Outta of Dodge' before anyone could catch me. to get hurt.  So Wayne just quickly realized that when he would think about where he wanted the puck, this chick was always there.  So I would be backdoor at the goal and he would thread a pass through eight different pairs of legs and really all I had to do is redirect into the back of the net.  It was pretty fantastic."    

From 1999 through 2012 Lindsay was a senior writer for ESPN Magazine, covering primarily ice hockey, tennis, baseball and the Olympics.  Then at MLB.com, she established herself as an authority of baseball fitness and injuries and frequently appeared on MLB Network to discuss her stories. 

Lindsay Berra focuses much of her reporting on sports injuries and baseball fitness
Credit Lindsay Berra

She now writes for several different outlets as a freelance sports journalist.  What's the story she'd most like to tell these days?

"It would probably be an unpopular one.  I like to get into the whys of things and what not and I am fascinated, we all know it's been written about so much, how much the strikeout rate has increased in baseball.  How many more times players are striking out per year, per game.  It's crazy.  My grandfather struck out only 400 some times in his enitre career.  Bryce Harper got to 400 strikeouts I think in his third year.  So it's not news that the strikeouts have gone up, but would I would really like to write about is this modern baseball player that strikes out so much.  If he is bothered by the fact that he strikes out so much, how does he get rid of that emotion to be able to go up and hit the next time 40 minutes later.  And if he's not bothered by the strikeout, why not?"

Lindsay made the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill softball team as a walk-on outfielder.  She surprised her dad on the phone when she made the squad.  He had no idea she had even tried out.  Berra eventually focused more on her journalism career after a couple of seasons.  She was just another family member who was able to excel in the sports world.  Her father Larry played minor league baseball in the Mets organization.  Her uncle Dale played for the Pirates, Yankees and Astros.  Her unclue Tim played for the Baltimore Colts. 

Lindsay Berra and SportsJam host Doug Doyle share stories, tears and laughs at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

Even though she doesn't really look at herself as a role model or pioneer for women in the sports reporting business, Linday does get plenty of reminders from fans and young aspiring writers.

"When I meet folks and tell me that I am (a role model) I'm a little shocked by it but you definitely embrace it."

One of her favorite pieces at the museum is a one of a kind hand sketch of her grandpa Yogi.  It was created by the legendary artist Leroy Neiman.  Lindsay says the sketch was nearly thrown out by accident when items were being relocated. 

Click above to hear the entire interview with Lindsay Berra.