Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra

How good a player was Yogi Berra?

Casey Stengel, his manager for 12 seasons, whose baseball intelligence is among the greatest ever, most people say, never started a game without him in the lineup — at catcher or somewhere else.  Yogi’s performed best in crucial situations, and his baseball intelligence on the field was comparable to Casey’s in  the dugout, according to people who played with him.  But Casey was a better manager because his intuitive people intelligence was also far above normal.  Yogi was a good manager; Casey was one of the best.

People younger than I am (64), who never saw Yogi play,  tend to remember him for the funny, outrageous things he said — “Yogi-isms.”  Many don’t realize that Yogi-isms are memorable because they are wise and funny, not foolish.  For example:  “I NEVER SAID HALF THE THINGS i SAID.”

That simply means Yogi, who was uneducated, and never tried to be funny or wise, never said many of the things people remember and give him credit for saying.  Joe Garagiola, his lifelong friend from the old neighborhood in St. Louis, a fellow catcher, and great raconteur, got a lot of mileage telling Yogi stories on the lecture circuit.  He often re-worded Yogi-isms to make them funnier, and some he made up out of whole cloth.   So Yogi never said half the things he said.

It gets late early in Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium had three enormous tiers of stands behind home plate.  About 3 p.m., the sun began dipping below the top tier.  Heavy, dark shadows started creeping across the field, engulfing home plate, then swallowing the pitcher’s mound  and beyond.  When the field was partly in sun, part in shadow, it became difficult for players to follow the white ball, especially hitters trying to see it when it left the pitcher’s hand, and fielders trying to pick it up off the bat.  In most ballparks, the sun would not become a factor for another hour or two.  But in Yankee Stadium, it got late early.

“Never answer an anonymous letter

 It would probably be unwise even if it were possible.

 ” It’s deja vu all over again”

 ” When you come to a fork in the road….Take it “

See “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost, which Yogi probably never read, but understood anyway.

  “I want to thank you all for making this day necessary –
Yogi Berra Day, St. Louis.


 ” You can observe a lot by watching ” –

 How much of what we see do we miss because we were not observing?  Observing is an essential skill for a ballplayer.  It separates the great ones from the ordinary. Yogi could observe the slightest change in a better’s stance, and use the information to help decide what pitch to call for.

The game ain’t over till it’s over.

Probably the best-known, most quoted Yogi-ism of all, it was his way of expressing the old cliche, “The game ain’t over till the last man is out.”   

 This seeming no-brainer is really one of the things fans love most about the game.  It has no clock.  A football game is 60 minutes; a baseball game is 9 innings — 27 outs for each team.  If the game is tied at the end, the teams play extra innings until somebody wins.  In extra innings, if the visiting team goes ahead, the home team still gets three outs to tie or win.  If they tie, the teams keep playing.

Theoretically, a baseball game can last forever.  A team cannot run out the clock or sit on a big lead, like in football.  Baseball teams down to their last out, or last strike, can still come back to wipe out a big lead and win, even in the 7th game of the World Series.

In 2003, Pedro Martiinez of the Red Sox, the game’s best pitcher of that era, could not hold a 5-run lead over the Yankees — for a trip to the World Series — with two out in the 9th.  In the 1960 World Series, Game 7, the Yankees overcame a lead to tie he game in the top of the 9th.  Then, Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates led off the bottom of the 9th with a home run to win the game and the World Championship.

It does not happen a lot, but enough to be a real possibility any time.

Disputed call

Disputed call

 Yogi put up the biggest argument of his life on this play.  He insists to this day that Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson (sliding) was out on this still-controversial steal of home in the 1955 World Series.  Decades later, Duke Snider of the Dodgers said in a TV interview that Robinson told him he was probably out..  But the umpire, who had the only opinion that mattered, called Robinson safe. 

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