HIS mastery with a glove and bat won him the respect of his peers, but it was his bon mots that won hearts of people around the world.
Yogi Berra, one of sport’s most beloved and idiosyncratic figures who combined athletic prowess with a sideline in infectious homespun philosophy, has died at the age of 90.
The legendary figure won no fewer than 13 World Series during an illustrious post-war career as player, coach and manager and is widely regarded as baseball’s greatest ever catcher. The New Jersey native played in more World Series games than any other Major League Baseball player and was a three-time Most Valuable Player.
But in an age when interest in baseball was confined to the US, his colourful malapropisms, known fondly as Yogi-isms, ensured he became internationally famous, with his name appearing almost as often in Bartlett’s Famous Quotations as it does in baseball’s record books.
His unlikely contributions to the vernacular include sayings such as, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” “It’s deja vu all over again” and “It ain’t over till it’s over”. Once asked about his memorable remarks, Berra replied: “I don’t know why I say them. It just comes out.”
Unsurprisingly, former President George W Bush - himself known for his solecisms and spoonerisms - is among those who held Berra in the highest esteem. “Yogi’s been an inspiration to me,” he once said. “Not only because of his baseball skills but because of the enduring mark he left in the English language.”
Born Lawrence Peter to Italian immigrants in St Louis in 1925, Berra served on a gunboat supporting the D-Day invasion and went on to play for the Yankees between 1946 and 1963.
He was said to have been given the nickname Yogi by a friend who saw him sitting cross-legged as if meditating. The name stuck; Berra once greeted Pope John XXIII at the Vatican by saying “Hello, Pope” and the Pope replied: “Hello, Yogi”.
Berra once launched a defamation lawsuit over the popular Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Yogi Bear, although he withdrew it. The company said the name was a coincidence, but Berra is still believed to be the inspiration.
“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours,” was another of Berra’s sayings. The logic may be garbled, but the turnout to his service will doubtless tell its own truth.
Yogi in quotes
“You can’t think and hit at the same time.”
On his approach to at-bats
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
On selecting a restaurant
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” On economics
“We were overwhelming underdogs.” On the 1973 Mets
“It’s deja vu all over again!”
On how events sometimes seem to repeat themselves
“If people don’t come to the ballpark, how are you gonna stop them?”
On baseball attendance
“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. ... I just ain’t hitting.”
On a slipping batting average
“When you come to a fork in the road take it.”
On travel directions
“I usually take a two-hour nap from 1 to 4.”
On pregame rest
“It gets late early out there.”
On battling the shadows in left field at Yankee Stadium
“Never answer an anonymous letter.”
On fan mail
“You don’t look so hot yourself.”
On being told he looked cool
“You mean now?”
On being asked what time it was
“Thank you for making this day necessary.”
On being given a day in his honor
“Pair off in threes.”
On a spring training drill
“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
On his approach to playing baseball
“Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
“You can observe a lot by watching.”
“It ain’t over `till it’s over.”
On his team’s diminishing chances
“I really didn’t say everything I said.”
On the fractured syntax attributed to him