ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING
There are very few individuals in the New Jersey lore transcends the era in which they made their mark. Springsteen, Lombardi, Senator Bill Bradley, President Woodrow Wilson, Sinatra would fit the mold. And then there is Yogi.
Yogi Berra’s legacy is as vibrant today as it was when the St.Louis native first arrived in the area to take the first steps as a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees. The difference today is that Berra legacy is not just about sports or his Italian American heritage or even his larger than life presence in and around Montclair. It is about pride and education, a legacy which can now be told year-round to an even larger audience with the recent re-opening of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, hard by the first base line of Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University.
The Center opened recently following a $3.2 million renovation, with Berra and a host of luminaries like Bob Costas and Joe Torre on hand to celebrate. The celebration will continue this Saturday with a concert featuring some of the original members of “The Jersey Boys” at the Stadium, all part of a fundraising effort not for the Museum, but for the educational programs the facility is championing these days. The original museum opened in the late 1990s on the campus of Montclair State. Its space was filled with memorabilia from Berra’s career, and hosted a slew of events over the years. However, other than Yogi himself, many of the pieces became static, and the site needed a facelift.
The new center houses plenty of things Yogi, and features new video displays and other tidbits to enhance the experience, as well as the stadium shaped auditorium, which will host more programs dedicated not just to baseball, but to learning experiences for all ages, with programs that focus on sportsmanship and social justice, two traits Berra has always held in high regard on and off the diamond.
But how can Berra’s legacy, built on malapropisms and baseball, withstand such a test of time? The key comes from the man himself, someone who was able to balance a successful business career in the offseason with a legendary career on the field. A man who stood by his principals and rarely bent the rules, and went on to take those same ideals to the front office, leading both the Mets and Yankees to the World Series.
The Yogi brand was seen on Yoo-hoo and Wiffle balls, in commercials and card shows, and was never associated with anything that was controversial in nature. It is a brand that stands for loyalty and family, and as the years go on, has incorporated stronger social values and education into the plan as well. All of those factors speak very clearly in a challenged society, and have made the museum and learning center so much more than the precious artifacts it has and the events it holds. It speaks to a larger societal issue of positive values and dedication to community, which is really why the Yogi brand has continued so long. Yes it is about a quirky former ballplayer and the stories he can still tell so well. But more importantly it stands for quality in a world where sometimes quantity is placed on a higher level.