Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, who passed away on September 22, 2015 at the age of 90, is probably better known for his unique take on the English language than for his baseball career — and it was a helluva career.
Berra was a three-time, American League Most Valuable Player (only five others have ever been so honored), and MVP runner-up twice. He led American League catchers in home runs and RBIs in nine consecutive seasons from 1949 to 1957, and played in 14 World Series, winning 10 of them — and 75 total Series games. His career as a player and manager spanned 19 seasons, from 1946-63, and 1965. All but the last as a member of the powerhouse New York Yankee teams of the era. He made the All Star team 18 times. Despite being just 5 feet 7 inches tall and 185 pounds, Berra hit 385 career homers, drove in 1,430 runs, had 2,150 hits and a career batting average of .285 in an era when pitchers had a big strike zone and could brush you back at will. He caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. In 1999 he was voted to the major leagues All-Century Team.
As a boy who dreamed of being a big-league ballplayer when he grew up, Berra was an inspiration to me. A native of a St. Louis neighborhood of Italian immigrants called The Hill — his parents and two older siblings were immigrants — he shared Elizabeth Avenue with another future major leaguer who later became a Hall of Fame broadcaster, Joe Garagiola. The two remained lifelong friends. Garagiola, also a catcher with four teams, once quipped, “Not only was I not the best catcher in the Major Leagues, I wasn’t even the best catcher on my street!” Today, there’s a small sign on the street that both grew up on. Its name? Hall of Fame Place.
Berra quit school after the eighth grade and signed with the Yankees in 1943 before serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II. As a 19-year-old, Second Class Seaman, he played a significant part in one of the war’s most important campaigns, the Normandy invasion — better known as D-Day. Yogi was one of a six-man crew on a Navy rocket boat, firing machine guns and launching rockets at the German defenses at bloody Omaha Beach. He was fired upon but was not hit, later receiving several commendations for bravery.
I loved Yogi for his pluck, his downhome charm, his tireless work ethic and his humility. But like most, I really loved him for his wit. Yogi was known as something of a street-corner philosopher. What later became known as “Yogi-isms,” many of his countless quotes left you scratching your head. But many were also insightful lessons about life. In typical Berra fashion, late in life when asked about some of his more famous remarks, Berra quipped, “I never said most of the things I said.”
Sometimes, when I’m afield and in a pickle or maybe just taking a midday break and thinking about my next move, I think back to Yogi Berra and some of the things he said. Here are my 10 favorite Berra-isms of all time.
10) If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.
9) You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.
8) The future ain’t what it used to be.
7) A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
6) It gets late early out here.
5) You can observe a lot by just watching.
4) You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.
3) When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
2) It ain’t over till it’s over.
1) It’s like déjà vu all over again.
How about you? Who was one of your childhood heroes? And do you have a favorite quote or two? Drop me a note at email@example.com and let me know.