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Lawrence Peter Berra - more commonly known by his nickname 'Yogi Berra' - was a great baseball player of his time. He was an excellent catcher for the New York Yankees in the 1940s and 1950s, and was one of the great hitters of the time (indeed, he shot to national prominence because of it). He won three league MVP awards and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.

Unfortunately, his linguistic ability is not quite on the same level as his baseball ability. Yogi Berra is notorious for his oxymorons (contradictions), tautologies (saying the same thing twice) and other statements that, on reflection, just don't make sense. He's also one of the most-quoted sporting individuals in the world. US President Bush1, who also has a reputation for 'misspeaking', often quotes Yogi Berra, and jokingly credited him as his speechwriter.

Retired ballplayer and sportscaster Joe Garagiola grew up on the same block in St. Louis. He says Yogi was a superb athlete and a boy of few words, anything but the neighborhood comedian.

"Yogi is not a funny guy," says Garagiola. "He says funny things, or he'll say things in a funny way. You walk away and you want to screw your head on just a little bit tighter ... Did he really say that?"

In 1947, Yogi was honored in St. Louis when the Yanks played in town. It was on this night that, legend has it, the very first Yogi-ism was uttered. Yogi asked a teammate to write a one-line speech for him, and the teammate suggested simply saying, "I want to thank all the people who made this day possible."

"So, I got up to the mike," Berra recalls. "I say,'I wanna thank everybody here for making this night necessary.' And that's when it started."

That same year he also met a girl named Carmen, who was waiting tables in a St. Louis restaurant. They got married, and 51 years later, are still married. Their three boys and eight grandchildren live near their home in Montclair.

During those Yankee years when Yogi was on the road, someone asked him about Carmen and another Yogi-ism was born. He said, "We have a good time together, even when we're not together."

It made perfect sense to Carmen. "I know exactly what he means by that. He means he's happy to be away from me for a little while, but he can't wait until he gets home."

Through the years, Berra's language skills made him famous -- and made him money. He's sold everything from cat food to beer. The mayor of New York even tapped Yogi for the recent campaign to boost tourism in the Big Apple after the September 11 attacks.

With his new fame as a master wordsmith, one could lose sight of the fact that Berra was one of the greatest ball players of all time. He was chosen Most Valuable Player three times and has 10 World Series Rings, more than any other player.

"No earrings, no tattoos, no standing at home plate watching the ball," says Crystal. "Just a great unlikely superstar, whose stats for his physical makeup are astounding, you know, just amazing. You go, 'How did this guy hit 300 home runs?'"

No one can question Yogi's baseball stats. But some wonder if he really said everything he's reported to have said. For example, Yogi is reported to have said, "It's déjà vu all over again."

"I don't believe that for a second, because déjà vu is not Yogi's kind of talk," says Kaplan. "The safe and prudent way to handle it in a book like Bartlett's is to say it's attributed."

Garagiola agrees: "Yogi would think déjà vu was a Latino shortstop. I mean, some of the things that they attribute to him saying - I know he doesn't say - or didn't say. And I have to laugh at it because I think that people, when they don't know who to hang it on, they'll hang it on Yogi."

But Yogi is certain that he made the comment about "déja vu."

So how does an MVP catcher from St. Louis go down in history for, to quote the President of the United States, "the enduring mark he left on the English language"?

"I think Louis Armstrong said it best," says Billy Crystal. "'If I have to explain it, I shouldn't be playing it.' And, I don't think you can explain someone like Yogi. It's too hard to do. I can't even attempt it. Because that would be to damage what is just a delightful little jewel that we should cherish."

So, here they are ...

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90% of the putts that are short don't go in.

A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore.

Always go to other people's funerals otherwise they won't go to yours.

At a dinner in an Italian restaurant, he was asked how many slices should be cut in his pizza, and he replied: 'You better make it four; I don't think I could eat eight'.

Baseball is 90% mental -- the other half is physical.

Carmen said I took Tim to see Doctor Zhivago today. Yogi replied, What the hell's wrong with him now?

Glen Cove. -- Referring to Glenn Close on a movie review television show.

He can run anytime he wants. I'm giving him the red light. -- On the acquisition of fleet Ricky Henderson.

He was told that he looked cool in his summer suit by the Mayor of New York's wife, and he said 'You don't look so hot yourself'.

How long have you known me, Jack? And you still don't know how to spell my name. -- Upon receiving a check from Jack Buck made out to bearer.

I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.

I didn't say half the things I said.

I knew exactly where it was, I just couldn't find it.

I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early.

I never blame myself when I'm not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn't my fault that I'm not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?

When asked if he liked the opera one evening , Yogi said "I really liked it. Even the music was good."

I usually take a two hour nap from 1 to 4.

I want to thank you for making this day necessary. - This was said at Yogi Berra day in St Louis in 1947. It is supposed to be the first Yogi-ism. By his account, he asked a teammate to write a short speech, and he misspoke, replacing the word 'possible' with 'necessary'.

I wish I had an answer to that, because I'm tired of answering that question.

When asked what he would do if he found a million dollars, Yogi said "I'd find the fellow who lost it, and, if he was poor, I'd return it."

When he was asked if first baseman Don Mattingly had exceeded expectations, Yogi said "I'd say he's done more than that "

If I didn't wake up, I'd still be sleeping.

If the fans don't come out to the ball park, you can't stop them.

If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be.

If they don't want to come, you can't stop them.

If you can't imitate him, don't copy him.

When you get to a fork in the road, take it. - Berra insists that this is part of some driving directions to his house. In his hometown of Montclair New Jersey, there is a fork in the road and either way you take, you will get to his house. Some people find this to be a very poignant quote, thinking it means that when you find a challenge, overcome it.

If you don't know where you're going, chances are you will end up somewhere else.

If you don't set goals, you can't regret not reaching them.

It ain't over 'til it's over. - This quote is undoubtedly the most well-known Yogi-ism. It is also one of the more coherent ones. He first said this about the 1973 National League pennant race.

It ain't the heat; it's the humility.

It gets late early out there. -- Referring to the bad sun conditions in left field at the stadium.

I thought they said steak dinner, but then I found it was a state dinner ... It was hard to have a conversation with anyone; there were so many people talking. - This was about a fancy dinner he attended at the White House.

It's like déjà vu all over again. - Many people think that Berra would have never said the words déjà vu, as it wasn't his kind of language, but Yogi himself insists that he said this in reference to home runs by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who often hit these.

It's never happened in the World Series competition, and it still hasn't.

It's never happened in the World Series history - and it hasn't happened since.

Mr Bush made a bit of a Yogi-ism himself in saying 'I am shocked to discover that over 90% of our imports come from outside America!'.

Never answer an anonymous letter.

No, you didn't wake me up. I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.

Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded.

Once, Yogi's wife Carmen asked, Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried? Yogi replied, Surprise me.

Our similarities are different. - This quote was actually said by Dale Berra, Yogi's father. It's interesting to note how similar they are in their linguistic ability.

Pair up in threes.

Shut up and talk.

Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting.

Steve McQueen looks good in this movie. He must have made it before he died.

Texas has a lot of electrical votes. -- During an election campaign, after George Bush stated that Texas was important to the election.

Thanks, you don't look so hot yourself. -- After being told he looked cool.

The future ain't what it used to be.

The other teams could make trouble for us if they win.

The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.

Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?

We have a good time together, even when we're not together. - This quote was talking about his wife Carmen. Apparently it makes perfect sense to them, and it means that he likes to spend a little time away from her, but wants to be back together after it.

We make too many wrong mistakes. - This quote was about his team, the New York Yankees lost the World Series in 1960.

We're lost, but we're making great time!

When asked what makes a good manager of a baseball team, he said 'A good ball club'.

When asked what time it was, he said "What? You mean right now?"

Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.

You can observe a lot just by watching.

You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left.

You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.

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And now Aflac is cashing in on Yogi-isms!  Here's the Yogi Berra Aflac Commercial.


Copyright © 2010 Tim Stouse
Last modified: December 10, 2010
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