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Yogi Berra: America's Funny Philosopher
A Living Legend
On a cool May day in 1925, St. Louis, Missouri, Yogi Berra was born on “The Hill”, the working-class Italian section of St. Louis. Today the Hill still features dozens of the city’s finest Italian restaurants, grocery stores with fresh proscuitto, sausages, gourmet olive oils, and other Italian specialties, bakeries, and blue-collar families maintaining their heritage. From this humble upbringing Yogi became arguably the most beloved baseball player since Babe Ruth, even having the cartoon character Yogi Bear named after him. Remarkably, the 8th-grade dropout also became possibly the most quoted living American, with eight entries in the latest edition of Bartlett’s Famous Quotations, more than any American president. He became America's funny philosopher. Ever humble, Yogi has downplayed his knack for Yogi-is-ms - as they are called - saying “I never said the things I said.”
Not Just Your Average Bear
But who is Yogi Berra? Is he an author, philanthropist, TV pitchman, cartoon character, or philosopher? Yes. He is all of these, and many forget that he is also a legendary baseball player and manager. Having spent nearly his entire career with the N.Y. Yankees, he was one of only four players to be named Most Valuable Player of the American League 3 times, and one of only six managers to lead both American League and National League teams to the world series. His 10 world series rings is more than any other player. He was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1972.
And remember this: During the seasons from 1949 to 1955, on a team packed with stars and future legends such as Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, it was Berra who led the Yankees in RBI for seven consecutive seasons. According to the win shares formula developed by sabermetrician Bill James, Berra is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitcher in major-league history. An assessment with which many agree.
From the Mouths of Babes
The first Yogi-ism was uttered in 1947 in his hometown of St. Louis. He was being honored and asked a teammate for help with his opening line. When Berra got up to the mic, he mixed it up, saying “I want to thank all the people who made this day necessary.” The press had a field day with it, and that was only the beginning of a lifetime of humorous, Zen-like sayings.
Yogi-isms are most often non-sequiturial mondegreens. A non-sequiture is “a comment which, due to its lack of meaning relative to the comment it follows, is absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing. It is Latin for "it does not follow." A mondegreen is a misheard word, usually a song lyric, as in the Beatle’s song, Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds, when the lyric “the girl with the kaleidoscope eyes” is misheard as “the girl with colitis goes by.’ The goal of a non-sequiturial mondegreen is “making a point through surreally humorous, absurdist mis-use of language, especially the alteration of clichés through malapropism and mixed metaphor. [Many Yogi-isms] take the form of a tautology, a paradox, a contradiction or of some formulation of the law of identity,” a law attributed to Aristotle and meaning that an object is the same as itself: Literally A=A.
The Accidental Sage
While many Yogi-isms exhibit a philosophical wisdom as though crafted by a skilled wordsmith, Berra maintains that he didn’t say any of them intentionally. So how did a ballplayer with an abbreviated education become the philosophical dispenser of wise sayings? America's funny philosopher? Books have tried to figure it out, but Berra himself doesn’t even pretend to know. He told Bob Simon of CBS News, “I don’t mean to be funny. I, tell you the truth, Bob - them sayings come out. I don’t even know I said ‘em. I really don’t.”
So an MVP catcher from St. Louis goes down in history for leaving an enduring mark on the English language. He is quoted, ad infinitum, even by people who don’t know who he is. You can’t explain someone like Yogi Berra. Part of his legacy is the conundrum he represents. Are there any more Yogi-isms waiting to be spoken? Perhaps. As Yogi famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Yogi pics and "Yogiisms"
Yogi-isms: Say What?
As a general comment on baseball: "Ninety percent of this game is half mental."
On why he no longer went to a popular St. Louis restaurant: "Nobody goes there no more, it's too crowded!"
When giving directions to his New Jersey home, which was equally accessible via two different routes: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
"It's like déjà vu all over again".
"It's tough making predictions, especially about the future"
"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours."
On a trip to Cooperstown, to attend a dinner, Phil Rizzuto commented to Yogi, "I think we're lost." To which Yogi responded "Yeah, but we're making great time."
When told by a queen visiting New York on a particularly humid day that he appeared "quite cool," Yogi innocently responded "Thanks; you don't look so hot yourself."
When asked if he wanted a personal pizza cut into 4 or 8 slices, Yogi responded with "Better cut it into 4, I don't think I could eat 8."
"It's not the heat, it's the humility."
"They could make trouble for us if they win" on the American League situation
"The future ain't what it used to be."
"We made too many wrong mistakes."
"If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be."
"I usually take a two hour nap from one to four."
"You can observe a lot just by watching."
"He must have made that before he died." -- Referring to a Steve McQueen movie.
"I'd find the fellow who lost it, and, if he was poor, I'd return it." -- When asked what he would do if he found a million dollars.
"Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?"
"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."
"I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early."
"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."
"It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much."
"Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting."
"A nickel isn't worth a dime today."
"It gets late early out there." -- Referring to the bad sun conditions in left field at the stadium.
Once, Yogi's wife Carmen asked, "Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?" Yogi replied, "Surprise me."
"Do you mean now?" -- When asked for the time
"You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left."
"90% of the putts that are short don't go in."
"I always thought that record would stand until it was broken."
"If the fans don't come out to the ball park, you can't stop them."
"Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel."
"It's never happened in the World Series competition, and it still hasn't."
"How long have you known me, Jack? And you still don't know how to spell my name." -- Upon receiving a check from Jack Buck made out to "bearer."
"I'd say he's done more than that." -- When asked if first baseman Don Mattingly had exceeded expectations for the current season.
"He can run anytime he wants. I'm giving him the red light."
"I never blame myself when I'm not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn't my fault that I'm not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?"
"The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase."
"Know anything? I don't even 'suspect" anything!"
"Bill Dickey is learning me his experience."
“He hits from both sides of the plate. He's amphibious."
“I don't know (if they were men or women fans running naked across the field). They had bags over their heads."
"I'm not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did."
"In baseball, you don't know nothing."
"So I'm ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face."
"Take it with a grin of salt."
“We have a good time together, even when we’re not together.” - referring to his wife.
I hope you have enjoyed this visit with Yogi Berra, America's funny philosopher. If you know of any Yogiisms or similar sayings, please leave them below in the comment section.