Friday, September 25, 2015

In Memoriam: Yogi Berra

As a boy of 8 and 9 and 10, growing up in the Bronx, I was a big New York Yankees fan. When you grow up in the Bronx, that’s really all there is to brag about. A zoo and the Yankees.

Nearly every game aired on channel 11 WPIX, and I watched as many as I could, which was nearly all of them.

The Yankees are by far the most successful team in the history of American sports. Not even close. They’re probably the most successful team in the world. For this reason, rooting for the Yankees has often been equated with rooting for a large, wealthy corporation like IBM or GM. I’ve always thought it’s a very poor analogy.

Rooting for the Yankees is actually like rooting for the United States. Each in their own way, the Yankees and United States are the 300 lb. gorilla, that most powerful of entities winning far more than anyone else. Their wealth creates many advantages. Supporters expect them to win, and they usually do. Opponents absolutely revel in their defeats.

All that success means you will be adored by some non-natives who are tired of losing and want to bask in your glory, even if it must be from afar. But mostly you are hated. Anywhere you go in America, some people love the Yankees and many more hate them. Just like the United States is either loved or hated everywhere else in the world.

Who hates IBM?

And just as U.S. history, so stuffed with victory, is chock full of famous figures, so too is Yankee lore replete with famous men in pinstripes.

There are 53 former Yankee players, managers, and executives in the Baseball Hall of Fame, just over 1/6 of the Hall’s total membership.

Can I name them all? Of course not. That’s like naming all the presidents. I have a Ph.D. in history and I still get bogged down once I reach the 1840s (who comes after Van Buren?), and can’t resume a steady line until I re-emerge with Buchannan in 1856; you know, the guy before Lincoln.

For the average person, there are the biggies: Washington, Lincoln, a couple of Roosevelts and so forth.

For Yankee fans naming their club’s Hall of Famers is actually tougher than naming presidents. There have only been 43 presidents. So most fans know a bunch but not all of them, and then everyone knows the biggies, the Washingtons and Lincolns of baseball.

You don’t have to be a Yankees fan. Hell, you don’t even have to know anything about baseball. You’ve all heard of these guys because they transcend baseball. They’re part of American culture.

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Micky Mantle, and Yogi Berra. Those five.

Ruth is probably the single greatest baseball player of all time and still the most famous American athlete who ever lived; we’ll see how famous Michael Jordan is nearly 70 years after his death. Gherig’s got a disease named after him and hardly anyone knows its actual name (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). DiMaggio became a memorable lyric in a seminal Simon and Garfunkle song thirty years after he was the topic of his own hit song. The Mick’s boyish good looks and runaway success made him a poster boy of mid-century American baby boomer aspirations. And Yogi had a cartoon bear named after him.

Yogi also said all that stuff. Things you’ve heard that you may or may not have realized he said. Or stuff you thought he said that he may not have said.

Best known is “It ain’t over til it’s over,” which is among the most famous of American axioms, and which he actually said, while managing the New York Mets in 1973. But there are a lot of others.
  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it (giving directions to his home).
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded (speaking of the Copa Cabana nightclub).
  • Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.
  • A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
  • Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
  • We made too many wrong mistakes.
Or, as only Yogi could put it, speaking to the phenomenon of misattribution: I really didn’t say everything I said.

But he really did say that.

by The Public Professor |  Read more:
Image: uncredited