Yesterday, Yogi Berra, lovable “King of the Malaprop,” passed away of “natural causes” at the age of 90. Although he initially built his reputation as a superb baseball player he also achieved much notoriety for his “Yogisms.” They sounded funny and weird, but, in a convoluted way, they actually made sense.
Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was born on May 12, 1925 in St. Louis. His parents were poor first generation Italian immigrants. They believed in hard work and saw little value in their children playing sports. Supposedly, Yogi’s older brothers had to work really hard to convince them to let him pursue a baseball career. Thank God they did.
Two other soon-to-be famous boys lived on the same block – Joe Garagiola and Jack Buck. Garagiola was actually widely considered to be the better baseball prospect, and the hometown St. Louis Cardinals chose to sign him instead of Yogi. Garagiola became a journeyman major league catcher and had better success as a broadcaster and entertainer, demonstrating that scouting is an inexact science. Buck became one of the most accomplished baseball announcers of his generation and was the “Voice of the Cardinals” for many years. (Younger readers will be more familiar with his son, Joe, who has followed in his footsteps.) As a result of their success the name of the street on which they lived was later changed to “Hall of Fame Place.” There is a story that Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Cardinals, actually liked Yogi. Supposedly, he purposely didn’t sign him because he was leaving to go to the Dodgers. He was hoping to save him for the Dodgers. In any event, before Rickey could pull off that coup the Yankees signed Yogi for the bargain price of $500. I would say they got their money’s worth.
After serving in the US Navy during WWII as a gunner’s mate and a brief stint in the minor leagues Yogi made his major league debut on September 22, 1946. As they say, the rest was history. Supposedly, Yogi’s nickname is derived from his habit of sitting with his arms and legs crossed like a Hindu yogi. Sounds good to me.
Yogi is widely regarded as one of the best catchers in baseball history. In particular, he was a fabulous “clutch” hitter. Consequently, many opposing pitchers actually feared to face him in a big spot more than any other Yankee, even the more famous Mickey Mantle. In addition, he was one of the best “bad ball ” hitters of his time. He had the facility to hit a pitch up by his eyes or down by his ankles. Yogi often said “If I can hit it, it’s a good pitch.”
Below please find a few of Yogi’s professional accomplishments:
- He was an All-Star for 15 years and played in 18 such games.
- He won three AL MVP awards (1951, 1954 and 1955).
- He holds numerous World Series records, including most games, at-bats, hits, doubles, catcher put-outs, games caught, Series appearances (18 as a player, coach and manager), and, most importantly, Series won (ten).
- After retiring as a player, he managed or coached the Yankees, Mets and Astros.
- He caught the only perfect game in World Series history (by Don Larsen in 1956).
- He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. That same year, the Yankees “retired” his number 8.
- “The Sporting News” included him on its list of the “100 Greatest Baseball Players.”
- The fans voted him onto the “MLB All-Century Team.”
This piece would not be complete without discussing Yogi’s unique way of “turning a phrase.” His famous “malapropos” obscured the fact that he was a superb baseball player and an underrated manager. Below please find, in no particular order, a list of my favorites:
- “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.”
- “It’s like ‘deja vu’ all over again.”
- Referring to a popular Italian restaurant, “no one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
- “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.”
- “Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t go to yours.”
- “You better cut the pizza into four slices. I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
- “How can you think and hit at the same time?”
- Referring to the Yankees penchant for “comeback ” victories: “It gets late early out here.”
- “Pair up in threes.”
- Referring to Sandy Koufax after the he led a Dodgers sweep of the Yankees in 1963: “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”
- “So, I’m ugly. I saw anyone hit with his face.”
- “I never said most of the things I said” (probably true). For example, golfers often attribute to Yogi the saying “90% of short putts don’t go in.” If he didn’t say it, he should have.
- And my personal favorite, while commenting on the Mets seemingly insurmountable deficit during the 1973 pennant race: “It ain’t over till it’s over” (turned out to be accurate).
What’s your favorite “Yogism?” I’d like to know.
Finally, as a lifelong Dodgers fan and Yankees hater, I rooted against Yogi, but I respected and feared him, especially with the game on the line. Yogi, you were one of a kind. Rest in peace. We will miss you.