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Ron Guidry remembers old friend Yogi Berra

New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher and

New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher and special advisor Yogi Berra, left, sits beside former pitcher and spring guest instructor Ron Guidry during an interview before the Yankees spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., Friday, March 16, 2012. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

As the baseball world mourns the death of Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry grieves the loss of a friendship that endured long after the pitcher's career with the Yankees.

What initially seemed like the oddest of couplings in so many ways -- age, eras, backgrounds and accents -- only strengthened over the years.

Guidry went beyond the Yogi-isms, discovering there was way more to Berra than met the ear. Berra was a Yankees coach from 1976-83, when Guidry went from rookie to ace of the staff.

"Our friendship kind of developed, his locker was right next to mine," Guidry, 65, said Wednesday by phone. "He's a walking encyclopedia of the game. He was one of the greatest ballplayers. He played against the greatest ballplayers. Why would I not ask questions about how to get guys out coming from a Hall of Fame catcher if I want to be a real good pitcher?"

That is what Guidry absorbed. He became such a persistent student that Berra playfully dismissed him one night in 1978 when he wanted some pregame advice before facing the California Angels.

"It was June 17, the night I struck out 18," Guidry said. "I walked back in the clubhouse and Yogi raised his hands in the air in a comical way, saying, 'You got everything you need to know. Just be the guy you are.' "

In later years, Guidry became something of a personal chauffeur for Berra at spring training, picking him up at the airport and transporting him around Florida. It was another educational experience, perhaps for both men. Guidry helped the elderly Berra navigate his way through camp.

Guidry did it out of friendship, not obligation or payback.

"It's such a great relationship, you don't have to pay anybody anything when you're such good friends," he said. "He looked forward to coming to spring training. As soon as he was home in March he was already making plans to go to the next spring training."

Guidry had been there for Berra during his 14-year feud with owner George Steinbrenner, who reportedly sent general manager Clyde King to inform Berra he was being fired as manager 16 games into the 1985 season.

"That was big on his mind," Guidry said. "He didn't like the way that he had gotten fired and that George hadn't told him personally. He stayed away and I know it ate at him not to be there. That was the thing that he just loved to do.

"Once it got patched up, it was like he was never away and he never once said anything bad about George. He said, 'I'm glad I'm here. It's fun to be back.' "

Guidry visited with Berra a few months ago at an assisted living facility in New Jersey.

"We watched the game together," he said. "We just talked about the game. It was very, very touching for me when I think that was my last time with him. But his 90 years were filled with fun and a lot of joy."

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