Happy Birthday No. 90, Yogi Berra

YogiFreeBy Glen Sparks

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankee catcher and legendary wordsmith, turns 90 years old today. If you see a batter belt a double off his shoe tops, or rip a single on a pitch at his shoulders, think of Yogi. The Hall of Famer liked nothing more than to turn bad balls into base hits.

If you hear a friend, a spouse, a favorite player or a broadcaster garble a phrase or wax philosophically not quite right, think of Yogi. He threw the English language into some odd directions.

Berra is not simply a former ballplayer.  He is an American treasure.  And, really, don’t most of those famous “Yogi-isms” make at least a little sense?

“If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”

Exactly. If you can’t home runs, punch it through the other way. Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew went to the Hall of Fame doing this.

“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Yes, it often is.

“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”

Ok, this one simply involves a basic math error. Oh, well. Yogi was never a Stanford man.

Born May 12, 1925,in St. Louis the son of Italian immigrants, Berra grew up in The Hill neighborhood on the city’s south side. Joe Garagiola grew up on the same street.

Yogi, Joe and the guys played a lot of baseball. They also went to a lot of movies. Supposedly, that’s how Lawrence Peter Berra became Yogi. The boys were watching a movie set in India, probably some Grade B action serial shot on a back lot in Burbank. Anyway, there was an actor playing a yogi, a Hindu holy man. “Hey, you look like that guy,” one of the kids said. Ha Ha. One of the greatest nicknames in sports history stuck, acquired on a lazy afternoon in south St. Louis.

“So, I’m ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.”

Berra swung at everything. Usually, he hit the ball hard. The Yankees signed him in 1942 and sent him to the Norfolk Tars of the Class B Piedmont League. World War soon interrupted Berra’s baseball career. Yogi served in the U.S. Navy, aboard the U.S.S. Bayfield.

“You can observe a lot by watching.”

This makes perfect sense. If you can’t learn something by watching Mike Trout in a batter’s box, you’re probably not paying attention. But, Yogi took his own dictum to extremes during World War II. See, Yogi went to Normandy aboard a troop carrier on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Bullets were flying everywhere; gigantic German guns blasted away at the Allied troops. And, Yogi wanted to take a look. Just 5-feet-7, he stood on his tip toes to get a better look at the action.

Luckily, a sergeant yelled at him to keep his head down. Yes, sir.

Safe and sound, Berra arrived back in the United States a few years later, ready to play ball.

Berra put together an extraordinary career. He belted 358 home runs over 19 seasons and batted .285 with a .348 on-base percentage and .482 slugging percentage. The Baseball writers voted him the American League MVP in 1951, 1954 and 1955. He played on 14 World Series teams and was a 10-time winner.

Amazingly, he didn’t go into the Hall of Fame until his second try (in 1972). He waited an extra year even though he may have been the best catcher in baseball history.  His competition is the Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Bench and the Negro League great Josh Gibson.

Later, Yogi earned three more World Series rings, as a coach for the 1969 New York Mets champions and for the 1977 and ’78 Yankee Series winners.

“It gets late early out here.”

“I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.”

Yogi Berra. Just the mention of his name puts a smile on your face.

Below, you’ll find some other Yogi-isms. Berra may or may not have actually said this stuff.

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

“It aint the heat. It’s the humility.”

“Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”

“We made too many wrong mistakes.”

“You should always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise, they won’t go to yours.”

“How can you hit and think at the same time.”

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

Finally …

“I really didn’t say everything I said.”

More about Yogi:

Yogi Berra: The Eternal Yankee

Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry and Baseball’s Greatest Gift

When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It! Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes

Yogi Berra: In His Own Words (DVD)

Yogi Berra’s Best Yogi=ism was a Profound Act of Kindness

Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center

Yogi Berra at 90: Quips and Quotes from a Yankees Icon

Fans Can Back Medal of Freedom for Yogi

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