The man who played in more World Series games and said more of the familiar quotations in Bartlett’s than any other baseball player died on Tuesday.
Yogi Berra, catcher, outfielder, manager, inspiration for an animated, anthropomorphic bear, World War II veteran, son of Italian immigrants, loyal husband, devoted father, and wordsmith, passed away precisely 69 years since his debut in the majors. He was 90.
“You can observe a lot by watching,” “It gets late early out there,” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” read as a few of the oft-said tautologies, contradictions, and dull witticisms first said by the New York Yankees great. The quotable catcher affirmed the authenticity of the sayings in characteristic style by confessing, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
As usual, his words expressed one thing but the style in which he said them rebutted the to-the-letter message. His face provided a more literal translation of the fun soul underneath. Validating the pastime of physiognomists, Yogi Berra looked like baseball. He talked as though controlled by a ventriloquist who wrote fortune-cookie messages to pass the time during hangovers.
He spoke more eloquently if less memorably beside and behind the plate. Berra played in 14 World Series, emerging victorious in 10 of them. He won three MVP awards. Due to his career overlapping MLB’s brief and bizarre mania for two annual mid-summer classics, Berra played in more All-Star games than full seasons. Cooperstown accepted him into the Hall of Fame in 1972 and he joined Phil Rizzuto, Elston Howard, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and other teammates in Monument Park in 1988. Now he joins them in the stadium in the sky, making it “deja vu all over again” for Yankees fans mourning the loss of a legend.
After serving on the USS Bayfield off the coast of France during “the longest day,” Berra put in a long day’s work 117 times in the majors by catching both ends of double-headers. Playing left field, he watched the most famous longball in World Series history sail over his head when Bill Mazeroski homered to break a stalemate in the bottom of the ninth of 1960’s Game Seven. Berra remains the only man to catch a perfect game in the World Series, famously jumping onto Don Larsen after a 1956 Game Five win.
The eighth-grade dropout leaves behind a Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, three sons, and many Yogi-isms, the most relevant of which, at least in the immediate wake of the player’s passing, instructs: “You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”