LITTLE FALLS, N.J. (AP) — As Yogi Berra might say, when you turn 90 you should celebrate it right the first time.
The baseball Hall of Famer enjoyed his 90th birthday in grand style Tuesday, complete with a youth drum orchestra, a giant cake — and replicas of his 10 World Series rings and three AL MVP awards that were stolen last year.
Berra, who is bound to a wheelchair, cut a ribbon but did not speak. Surrounded by family members, he smiled for cameras.
“It’s obviously a wonderful day,” said Dale Berra, Yogi’s son and the former major league infielder. “It’s all about the way my dad carried himself all the time, with dignity, with respect of people. Not just opponents, but teachers, leaders. … My dad respected all people. He just happened to be a great baseball player.”
Known for Yogi-isms, such as “It ain’t over ’till it’s over” and “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” Berra became one of the most beloved professional athletes. A 15-time All-Star, Berra was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.
“As a player, he was one thing, but I never got the chance to see him play,” Dale Berra said. “But as a father, he taught us to have the same humbleness that he has.”
Former New York Yankees and Mets catcher Rick Cerone was on hand along with former New York Jets running back Bruce Harper and National Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Carol Blazejowski, who played her college ball at Montclair State.
Major League Baseball, the Yankees and the Mets — teams that Berra both played for and managed — arranged for the purchase of rings and plaques for the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University. The originals were stolen last October, and a police investigation is ongoing.
“To be able to get all of these rings and awards back is incredible,” said Larry Berra, the oldest of Yogi’s three sons.
The Berra family also announced a petition drive urging Berra be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“There has been no greater ambassador to baseball than my grandfather,” Lindsey Berra said. “He’s been very supportive of the idea.”
New York and New Jersey declared Tuesday as “Yogi Berra Day,” and proclamations were presented to Berra from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“I think he deserves it,” Dale Berra said. “He’s a World War II hero and a D-Day veteran who also served in North Africa. He’s an American icon because if his integrity and ideals. This award is fitting for him. In every way, his life lessons are far more incredible than those as a player. As a father, he taught us the same humbleness he’s always had. He’s ideal for that honor.”
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