Sparky Anderson (from left) George W. Bush and Yogi Berra. (Photo: Paul Morse [public domain]/Wikimedia Commons)
Yogi Berra, who has just died at the age of 90, was more than one of Baseball's greatest catchers and the inspiration for a cartoon character. He also had a way with words, coming up with mangled expressions that still resonate. President George W. Bush, also famous for mangling language, once said: "Yogi's been an inspiration to me. Some of the press corps here even think he might be my speechwriter."
According to a Sixty Minutes segment on Yogi, he has more entries in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations than any President. Justin Kaplan, the editor of Bartletts, tells the show:
"I don't think people quote Shakespeare so much as they now quote Yogi Berra," Kaplan says. "Can you imagine a commencement speech without 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it'? It's impossible to conceive. And it leaves the young graduates in a state of total confusion and wonderment, which is the way it should be."
Many quotes are attributed to Yogi that probably shouldn't be; even he admitted it, saying “I never said most of the things I said.” One of his most famous, that I use all the time over at TreeHugger discussing busy urban spaces like the High Line, is supposed to be Yogi's opinion of a St. Louis restaurant. But in fact, according to Freakonomics, it predates him by a couple of years:
“Nobody goes there anymore, It’s too crowded.” is often erroneously attributed to Berra, but John McNulty used it in a story in the New Yorker, Feb. 10, 1943, when Berra was not yet even in the major leagues. An even earlier version, attributed to a “flutterbrained cutie named Suzanne Ridgeway,” appeared in the Helena Independent, Sept. 10, 1941 (“Now I know why nobody ever comes here; it’s too crowded”).
You can group yogi-isms by category and quote them according to your need; some are mathematical:
- “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
- “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
- “Pair up in threes.”
- "You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six."
Some are always great in discussions of urban design and planning, and are somehow geographical;
- “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
- “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
- “I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”
- And my favorite, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
And some are just so wonderfully warped and Einsteinian in their understanding of time and space:
- “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
- “It’s deja vu all over again.”
- “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
- “I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.”
And finally there are some that are just so strangely logical or philosophical.
- “Why buy good luggage, you only use it when you travel.”
- "It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility."
- "It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much."
- "If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be."
- And of course we have to end with this bit of advice: "Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours."
Yogi Berra is dead and will missed, but his familiar quotations will live forever.