Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player and coach, passed away this week, 69 years to the day of his Major League debut. In his 19 year career as catcher of the New York Yankees, Yogi played in 18 All Star Games, was named American League MVP, and won 10 World Series Championships. He later added three more World Series wins as a coach.
As great a player as he was, Yogi’s greatest claim to fame came from his inadvertent contributions to American English idioms. Yogi was a master of the malapropism and the obvious, and one of the most quoted men in history. Affectionately known as “Yogi-isms”, Berra’s observations were often nonsensical, usually illogical, but always warm-hearted and hilarious.
He had a deep folksy wisdom, and in a certain light, he was a phillisophical genius. While coaching the last-place Mets in 1973, a reporter asked him in July if their season was over. In what proved to be one of the most prophetic statements ever made in sports, Yogi said “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” The initial reaction to this for most folks was, “Duh!”. But when his Mets went on to win the pennant and play in the World Series that year, people began to see the elegant genius in his dumbassed sounding words.
Sitting in the dugout watching Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit back to back home runs several times in the early ’60’s, Yogi uttered this memorable one-liner – “It’s deja vu all over again.” Again, something sounding dumb became rather brilliant over time, as many people repeated the line, using it to name albums like John Fogerty did, and in dialogue in T.V. shows like NCIS, Charmed, Elementary, Pretty Little Liars, and Xena:Warrior Princess.
Malapropisms Some Yogi-isms are classic forms of the malaprop, a misplacement of a word for one with a similar sound. Like comedian Norm Crosby and fictional character Archie Bunker, Yogi was a master of this form, with gems like:
- “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”
- “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.”
- “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”
- “Take it with a grin of salt.”
Paradoxes Yogi had a great talent for paradoxical statements, things that proved themselves untrue by the very words used to say them.
- “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
- “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”
- “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
- “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.”
- “It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”
Brilliant Advice Bordering on Stupid A lot of what he said caused you to just shake your head and smile.
- “Never answer an anonymous letter.”
- “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
- “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
- “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
Pure Genius Part of this man’s charm was that you’d expect something he said to be dumb, but when you allowed it to sink in it was truly brilliant.
- “My mouth runs before my brain is ready to walk
- “We’re lost, but we’re making good time.”
- And my all time favorite -“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”
So as we say goodbye to America’s accidental linguist, the man who taught us to never assume the end is at hand, we now must say, Yogi, the facts are in. IT’S OVER!