The French would call him Mssr. Malaprop, but Peter Lawrence Berra was not just a funny guy, and even his funny sayings, taken in context make a lot more sense than they do in isolation. Most recently you may have run across the guy for whom a famous comic book figure (Yogi Bear) was named, set up against another animated figure— the AFLAC duck (in a barber shop no less, in which he says ‘and they will give you cash, which is just as good as money’). Yogi really is a remarkable story, and he was indeed a remarkable baseball player in the 40s, 50s into the 60s, and then a pretty good manager as well. And now we can add— a N.Y. Times best-selling author, to his many credits (well we could have done that in 1998, but the latest edition of his book with additions came out in 2010). I am referring to the Yogi Book, filled with pictures, stories, and of course ‘yogi-isms’. Do you know another person for whom a word was coined like that?
A Yogi-ism’ is a form of wisdom literature, which uses a pithy saying, at first glance nonsensical to say something actually worth pondering. For example, consider “don’t always follow the crowd. Nobody goes there anymore cause it’s too crowded.” In other words don’t be a lemming.
Yogi was from St. Louis, which seems to have nurtured a bunch of baseball players and announcers. Once the famous Jack Buck interviewed Yogi on radio and when the show was done handed him an honorarium check. The check read ‘Pay to the Bearer’. Yogi immediately turned to Jack and said “you’ve known me all these years and yet you still can’t spell my name right?”
In the 50s Yogi had already become a popular pitch man for various products including the popular chocolate drink— Yoo-Hoo. Speaking at a Yoo-Hoo convention (who knew You-Hoo had a to do like that) he was asked by a woman ‘Is Yoo-Hoo hyphenated? Yogi instantly responded ‘No mam, its not even carobonated.”
In 1964 when managing the Yankees, Yogi held a press conference and warned the news men– “If you ask me a question I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.” Now there is real wisdom. I wish more managers would go that route.
Famously, Yogi was the catcher in the 1956 World Series game when Don Larsen pitched a perfect game. Yogi’s comment sometime afterwards was “It’s never happened in World Series history. And it hasn’t happened since.”
With Yogi there was always plausible deny-ability because there were lots of phony yogiisms floating around during his era. But Yogi really did say ‘If you see a fork in the road, take it’ and he really did say ‘I really didn’t say everything I said’ and he really did say ‘It’s getting late early out there’, and he really did say ‘Steve McQueen looks good in this movie. He must have made it before he died’, and he really did say ‘always go to other people’s funerals otherwise they won’t go to yours.’and perhaps my personal favorite (bearing in mind that Yogi freely admits he is terrible at following directions)– Yogi is driving to Cooperstown to the Hall of Fame ceremony in 1972 from his home in N.J. with his wife Carmen and his three sons, and he got lost. His wife is complaining he has gotten lost and should stop— he rebuts “we’re lost, but we are making good time!”
If you are looking for a book you can read in an hour or so, and want to laugh, rather than cry this Christmas, I recommend the Yogi Book. It will do you good. And as Yogi once responded when told that the new mayor of the city of Dublin Ireland was Jewish— “Only in America!” Yogi is a genuine American, and we can tell because there is no one else out there like him. It’s hard to believe he is coming up on his 90th birthday next May.