Barra on Berra

The Real Yogi Berra (c) John G. Zimmerman

The Real Yogi Berra
(c) John G. Zimmerman

Recently I read writer Allen Barra’s 2009 biography, “Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee”, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Barra hit upon the right balance between objectivity and subjectivity in his assessment of the great Yankee Hall of Fame catcher, building needed assessor’s distance through his ability to see the difference between the actual man and the media myth created by sportswriters and advertisers – and yet, Barra still cared enough to dig out the true greatness of Yogi Berra as a Hall of Fame performer and masterful baseball thinker.

Barra supports the reality that Yogi did not say all the wise things he’s credited for saying as funny, but true sounding aphorisms, but that some he did say, some the writers made up, and that most are loaded with the seed of the same great obvious thought from Yogi’s original less catchy words.

Barra’s best example is Yogi’s trademark expression: “It ain’t over til it’s over.” Yogi Berra never said those exact words, of course. What he actually said in the heat of a pennant race during his tenure as manager of the New York Mets was something closer to the cliche thought-line we all know as “the game’s not over until the last man is out.”  That’s not what Berra said either, but it was closer to that old line than it was to his finally most celebrated line. Writers quoted Berra, but they kept changing his words until they morphed, or distilled down, into “it ain’t over til it’s over.” It worked. The seed for this wisdom was contained in Yogi’s original statement. The “it ain’t over til it’s over” version simply rang the public bell with far greater home-spun poetic clarity.

And so the wisdom of Yogi was born with some editorial help from certain writers. From there, it isn’t hard to see how Yogi wisdom assistance extended eventually to include these examples of Yogisms, as cited by Barra in the Appendices of his book:

Example One: During Yogi’s tenure as manager of the Mets, he attended a function at City Hall wearing a lime colored light summer suit. He was greeted by then Mayor John Lindsey’s wife, who exclaimed, “Welcome, Yogi!” – “Say,” she added, “you really look cool today!”

“You don’t look so hot yourself, Mrs. Wagner!” Yogi responded as he smiled and reached out to shake the mayor’s wife’s hand.

Example Two (from a commercial):

Yogi (in barber chair): “That’s why you need that kind of insurance.”

Man in Chair next to Yogi: “What kind of insurance is that, Yogi?”

Yogi: “For when you get hurt. – If you get hurt, and you can’t work, it won’t hurt – to miss work.”

One of my favorite sectors of the book happens late. Barra includes a comparison of some well-known thoughts of Yogi Berra to similar thoughts of some great world thinkers and shakers, The following may be my favorite among those offered – and a good way to lightly salt a Sunday column as over and out and done:

“This is the best of all possible worlds.” – Voltaire.

“Even if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” – Yogi Berra.

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2 Responses to “Barra on Berra”

  1. David Munger Says:

    Regardless of how Yogi was portrayed, he was a WEINER.

  2. Marci Jenkins Says:

    This is my favorite (whether a bona fide Yogi Berra quote or not): “Predicitions are difficult, especially when they’re about the future.”

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