Not Far From Everything Nearby

Yogi Berra, a veritable New Jersey institution, has seen it all in this state—and he's ready to tell about it.

Berra posed with Yankee teammate and fellow Jersey resident Phil Rizzuto.
Courtesy of The Yogi Berra Museum.

What’s so bad about New Jersey? Having lived here almost 60 years, I think it’s pretty good. Maybe it’s gotten a bad rap from comedians, I’m not sure. I do know it’s been a good place for me and my family for a long time, or we’d live somewhere else.

Sure, there’s more traffic, taxes, development and malls everywhere. But we’re still close to New York and the Shore, so nothing is too far even if it seems like it. Truth is, you don’t go far to find a good restaurant or almost anything you want. The Giants, Jets, and Devils are nice and close.

In the early ’50s, when I was a young guy on the Yankees, some of the players started living in North Jersey year-round. I can’t remember any traffic on the George Washington Bridge then. My buddy Phil Rizzuto encouraged me to move here from St. Louis, where I was from. He said there’d be more opportunities if I lived East; all the players had to find work when the season ended.

So Carm and I lived for a few years in Bergen County, then moved to Montclair, where we’ve been ever since. All those years Phil lived in Hillside, and we did a lot together. We worked off-seasons in the American Shops (clothing store) in Newark, and later opened a nice bowling alley in Clifton—the Rizzuto-Berra Lanes. Phil became the godfather to my oldest son, Larry.

Actually I had an early taste of New Jersey in 1946, when I was a 21-year-old kid playing for the Newark Bears, the Yankees’ top minor-league team. I remember that smokestack behind old Ruppert Stadium emitting some interesting fumes late in the afternoon. But I always had a good memory of Newark; the people were real friendly and supportive.

I always thought New Jersey was a good family kind of place. Our bowling alley even had a section for babysitting while people bowled. Carm said she picked Montclair because of the good schools and because there were so many kids playing outside—a nice place for our three boys to grow up. In Montclair we lived near Larry Doby, a good friend and great ballplayer for Cleveland who also moved here for family reasons. My son Dale and his son Larry Jr. became good pals, and Larry was always at our backyard pool.

Those were easier days. It was kind of like my old neighborhood when we played all day long, finding games wherever we could. Now there’s no empty lots anywhere, just armies of parents watching their kids play organized soccer or whatever activity. But I think it’s like that in every state you go.

Recently, I learned a lot about New Jersey history—it’s a great history with a lot of very big names who lived here or came from here. Two years ago I was fortunate to be honored by the New Jersey Hall of Fame, which also includes guys like Edison, Einstein, and Springsteen. Not too bad. When Jack Nicholson—originally a Jersey boy—was inducted, he requested me as his presenter. I just told him forget the Lakers, this was as good as it gets.

New Jersey gets a bad knock sometimes, but I’m still glad to be here. I live close to Montclair State University, which is growing like mad and has a nice little minor-league stadium they named after me. And I’m extremely proud of our Museum and Learning Center, right on the campus, which we just renovated and draws people from different parts of the country. We do camps and educational programs, almost all for kids from New Jersey. We teach them that no matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter. Just have pride in yourself, work hard, show respect, and you can have a full and happy life.

Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra is a longtime Montclair resident and the inspiration for the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls.

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