A very happy Thanksgiving to Yankees fans near and far! The crew here at Pinstripe Alley wish all of our readers a safe and socially-distanced holiday. For today, we’re serving up a special Turkey Day-themed anecdote from the annals of Yankees history. We hope you enjoy it.
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This Day in Yankees History (November 26)
35 Years Ago
On this day in 1985, Yogi Berra awoke in his Montclair, New Jersey home to a truck unloading potatoes on his front lawn. Twenty-three tons of potatoes, to be exact.
How did the Yankees legend end up with such an abundant supply of potatoes?
Some months before, Berra had traveled to Fargo, North Dakota, to participate in a golf tournament hosted by his friend and former Yankees teammate Roger Maris. A man named Vince Lindstrom, who was then the executive director of the Fargo Convention and Visitors Bureau, happened to give Berra a ride from the Fargo airport to his hotel.
During the drive, Berra was taken aback by North Dakota’s stark landscape. “My God, it’s so flat out here, what do you grow?” he asked. Lindstrom explained to Berra that potatoes were one of the main crops grown in the state. Yogi remained skeptical. “You don’t have enough potatoes to fill my front lawn!” Berra reportedly said.
A few months later in 1985, Lindstrom attended a convention for the Red River Valley Potato Growers Association. While catching up with several potato farmers in attendance, Lindstrom told the story about giving Berra a ride to his hotel and also mentioned Yogi’s funny remark regarding potatoes in his front yard. At some point during the weekend-long conference, perhaps following a couple of after-hours drinks, a few of the farmers (they had to be baseball fans, right?) devised a scheme to deliver a truckload of potatoes to Berra’s home in Montclair on Thanksgiving.
The farmers followed through with the prank. In the two days leading up to Thanksgiving in 1985, two truckers drove 23 tons of Red River Valley potatoes from North Dakota to Berra’s home in northern New Jersey. The truckers and several members of the Red River Valley Potato Growers Association “spent several hours unloading 100 cases of the spuds,” according to an LA Times article about the stunt.
Unsurprisingly, the Red River Valley delivery contained just a few too many potatoes for Yogi and Carmen Berra to cook and eat as part of their Thanksgiving dinner. Luckily, Fargo’s mayor Jon Lindgren had the foresight to reach out to a local food pantry in Essex County, so the potatoes Berra and his neighbors didn’t want wouldn’t go to waste.
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Happy Birthday to Vernon Louis “Lefty” Gomez, who would have turned 112 years old today. Born in Rodeo, California and known as “El Goofy” to his Yankees teammates, Gomez pitched for the Yankees from 1930 to 1942 and many count him among the most dominant MLB pitchers of the 1930s.
Despite his slight physique (at six feet, two inches tall, he weighed just 165 pounds), Gomez was capable of generating remarkable velocity on the mound. For the better part of a decade, the famously witty southpaw was the ace of the New York Yankees and helped lead the team to five World Series titles (‘32, ‘36, ‘37, ‘38, ‘39). His pitching performances in the Fall Classic were flawless; he won six of the seven World Series games he started, posting a 2.86 ERA in October over the course of his career.
Among other accolades and a long list of achievements, Gomez won the pitching Triple Crown (when a pitcher leads his league in wins, strikeouts and ERA) in 1934 and 1937. He also notched four 20-win seasons and appeared in seven consecutive All-Star Games during his prime. Gomez was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
According to the people who knew him, Gomez’s self-deprecating sense of humor rivaled his pitching talent. He also enjoyed a number of interests and hobbies outside of baseball, especially music. As an accomplished saxophone player, he likely would have jumped at the chance to jam out with Paul O’ Neill and Bernie Williams, had their time in pinstripes overlapped.