For the guy who said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” … it’s over. Yogi Berra – catcher, coach, manager, and quip-coining character extraordinaire – died Sept. 22 of natural causes. He was 90 years old.
How does one sum up such a life as that which Yogi lived? What’s more memorable, that he was an 8th-grade dropout; that, as a 19-year-old soldier, he participated in the D-Day invasion; or that he
• won the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times, playing catcher on a team that featured Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris?
• played in 14 World Series, winning 10 of them (his playing in 75 Series games is still a record)?
• played in All-Star Games for 15 consecutive years (18 games total, as they used to play two per year)?
• held the following records (for a catcher) when he retired in 1965: most plate appearances (8,359), hits (2,150), home runs (358), runs scored (1,175), and runs batted in (1,430)?
• struck out only 414 times (less than 5 percent of his plate appearances – compare Johnny Bench’s 1,278 strikeouts in 8,674 plate appearances and/or Barry Bonds’ 1,539/12,606)?
Yogi was best known for mysterious utterances that came to be known as Yogi-isms. Many of which he actually said, such as “I really didn’t say everything I said.” Thanks to The New York Times’ Victor Mather and Katie Rogers, here are some of my favorites, with snippets of back stories:
Dave Anderson quoted Berra in a 1974 Times column: “You’re not out until you’re out.” Yogi was managing the New York Mets at the time. The previous year, his Mets had lost a 4-3 World Series to the Oakland A’s.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Berra gave this advice in a 1966 commencement speech, implying that he had used it before. Other sources indicate that he said it in giving someone directions to his house, which was easily findable regardless of which tine of the fork was chosen.
“It’s deja vu all over again.” In 1987 Yogi told William Safire that he’d never said this. Years later, though, he stopped arguing and took credit for it. I get that. It’s only words, right? I also get that, when asked about “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings,” Yogi said, “That’s one of the things that I said … that I never said.”
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Berra’s wife, Carmen, acknowledged in 1987 that Yogi had said this once about a popular restaurant. It’s been attributed to him in the Times since 1972. Honest to goodness, I think I remember my dad saying this in the 1950s! The symmetrical incongruity of it is too perfect for it not to have been said by someone until 1972.
“I want to thank everybody for making this day necessary.” In 1947 Yogi said this at an event in his hometown, St. Louis. He was a rookie with the Yankees and was being honored at Sportsman’s Park.
In conclusion, a story told by many sources has Carmen Berra asking her husband “Where would you like to be buried?” And Yogi replying, “Surprise me.” Rest in peace, Lawrence Peter Berra.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.