Lawrence Peter Berra, better known to baseball aficionados as “Yogi,” passed away at the ripe age of 90 years old today. Berra was not only an MVP-caliber backstop for the iconic New York Yankees during arguably the franchise’s greatest heyday, when they captured a staggering 10 World Series titles between 1947 and 1962; he was also a cultural icon whose notoriety transcended his sport. He is remember as one of the most popular athletes of his era thanks to his charismatic personality and his zany syllogisms that made him seem every bit the average American.
In Yogi’s own words, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” He died in his sleep from natural causes.
Yogi Berra is best known for his remarkably funny (and clearly innocent) turns of phrase, but this somewhat obscures the incredible level of success and achievement he enjoyed during his career as a baseball player. Yogi Berra was not only one of the best fielding catchers in the major leagues, but also had the rare combination of being a power hitter, as well. Berra slugged a total of 358 home runs in his career—a very impressive number for a catcher—while maintaining a robust .285 career batting average. He was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player three separate times, and holds a litany of postseason records.
He spent the vast majority of his career with the Yankees, only briefly appearing for the crosstown New York Mets at the beginning of the 1965 season. Previously, as manager of the Yankees, Berra led the team to the American League pennant in 1964 before losing in the World Series. In 1973, in his first season as manager of the Mets, Berra led his team to an improbable National League pennant, becoming the first manager to do so in both leagues. Again, the team came up short in the World Series.
Interestingly, Berra’s nickname originated with a pair of his friends who insisted that the catcher sometimes resembled a Hindu yogi in his mannerisms and expressions.
Yogi Berra in Popular Culture
As illustrious as Berra’s playing career was, he endeared himself to the public primarily through his pithy, counterintuitive axioms. Some of the best include “You can observe a lot by watching”; “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore”; and “The future ain’t as good as it used to be.”
These paradoxical “Yogi-isms” are really what made Yogi Berra famous. Reporters were tickled by his candid and apparently innocent expressions. He once explained about a local restaurant that “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded,” and he once gave directions by suggesting, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
There have even been commercials, long after his career as a player, coach, and manager had ended, where Yogi plays himself, doling out his customary sagacity to New Yorkers on the subway or patrons of a barber shop. But, as he put it, “I didn’t really say everything I said.” That’s what you might call a self-referential Yogi-ism.
Yogi Berra will forever be remembered fondly, and remains one of the most beloved baseball players ever.