An article about Yogi Berra eliminates any need for a grammar check. He spoke a unique language.
It started on Long Island. I was 10 and apparently, not a great math student since I found myself in summer school retaking a course. There would be no chauffeur service either. My mother, Nina, wasn’t going to drive. She made it clear, “You flunked your way into summer school, you can pass your way out.” These words were spoken, let’s just say, without an interest in further debate.
Fortunately, my neighbor Joey flunked science. His summer school class began after mine ended. So rather than walk two miles home, I would wait the two hours for Joey’s mom. Apparently, flunking science did not mean a loss of riding privileges.
In my downtime, I sort of wandered over to the school library and to the baseball section. A biography of Babe Ruth screamed at me (I thought it was only a candy bar). When I got home, I would continue the journey down the 3rd base alley and do my homework while watching the Yankees. Think of it as a work study release program.
Those boys of ‘62. How did nature find the DNA to put together a team that included Luis Arroyo, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Clete Boyer (I always resented my parents for not naming me Clete), Tony Kubek, Phil Linz, Bobby Richardson, Tom Tresh, Bill Skowron, Johnny Blanchard, Hector Lopez, Joe Pepitone, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris. And the Yogster, or course.
Now fast forward to 1992. I’m hanging around the owner’s suite in the New Jersey Devils Stadium in Newark, NJ. I’m a magazine publisher, and my passion is business and Wall Street. My host is John McMullen, who fortunately for me happens to be the owner (alright, co-owner with John Whitehead, retired chairmam of Goldman Sachs). This co and that co can get confusing.
But one fellow in attendance had no “co”, no equal for that matter, in the ballpark or outside. Lawrence Peter Berra (May 12, 1925 — September 22, 2015) who as a lifelong Yankee hit 358 home runs, became one of four players to win the MVP three times, and one of the greatest catchers in history. He caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the only perfect game in MLB postseason history.
Yogi retired after 18 years with the Yankees where he joined the Mets as coach and player, eventually rising to manager. Then he’s back to the Yankees and later, the Houston Astros (where he met John McMullen, who owned that team too). In all, Yogi appeared in 21 World Series and won 13 of them. The Yankees retired his uniform number 8 in 1972
After their time together in Houston, these two New Yorkers, McMullen and Yogi, became great pals. They even worked out together in the Devil’s fitness center. The odd couple of fitness. McMullen probably said: “Hey, Yogi, come over to my gym where the Devil’s work out, and we can do push-ups.” Yogi: “Sure, Mac. Exercise never hurt anyone who didn’t do it.”
Back to the Devil’s game and standing there eating a hot dog in the owner’s suite. Yogi is there with that grin and his ‘know it all but who knows’ look. John Whitehead is dating author and former Reagan speech writer, Peggy Noonan, so the chatter is furious. Yogi is pulling me aside to tell me what he’s doing and I’m having a little trouble following. I thought he said he was giving speeches for a living. And then after this brief interlude, I realized I had my own “Yogi-ism”:
Jeff: “So Yogi, are you busy these days?”
Yogi: “I’m glad to be doing something.”
Jeff: “What exactly?”
Yogi: “I go around the country doing motivational speaking.”
Jeff: “What’s that like?”
Yogi: “It’s when you tell people to get motivated. So they’ll change.”
Jeff: “Makes perfect sense. How many days do you spend doing this?”
(Yogi looks at me like this is the dumbest question he’s ever heard)
Yogi: “I can’t tell you how many days I spend talking until I know where I’m speaking.”
Jeff: “Good point, Yogi.”
“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
“It’s deja vu all over again.”
“I usually take a two-hour nap from 1 to 4.”
“Never answer an anonymous letter.”
“We made too many wrong mistakes.”
“You can observe a lot by watching.”
“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
“It gets late early out here.”
“If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”
“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
“Why buy good luggage, you only use it when you travel.”
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”
“I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.”
“I can see how he (Sandy Koufax) won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”
“I don’t know (if they were men or women fans running naked across the field). They had bags over their heads.”
“I’m a lucky guy and I’m happy to be with the Yankees. And I want to thank everyone for making this night necessary.”
“I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”
“In baseball, you don’t know nothing.”
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”
“I think Little League is wonderful. It keeps the kids out of the house.”
“So I’m ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face.”
“Take it with a grin of salt.”
“The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.”
“You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
“I never said most of the things I said.”
For interest sake, Yogi was the third highest paid player on the Yankees:
1962 New York Yankees
Mickey Mantle $90,000.00
Roger Maris $70,000.00
Yogi Berra $57,500.00
Whitey Ford $47,500.00
Bill Skowron $37,500.00
Al Downing $18,000.00
Rollie Sheldon $10,500.00