Baseball lost a legend this week. Yogi Berra died September 22 at age 90.
It’s fitting – at least to me – that my first Blog would be about a great and fabled baseball player. I grew
up wanting to play for the Yankees. One summer, I played baseball every day and lost so much weight that my girlfriend didn’t recognize me when school resumed. Several years later, I was invited to walk-on at Texas A&M, but my talents didn’t match my love of the game. Dreams of a pro career soon ended.
Softball, however – fast pitches and finally slow pitch – kept me healthy. In my safe is a baseball autographed by Yogi, his battery mate, Whitey Ford, and conspicuously by Joe DiMaggio. It’s not for sale. Berra played with some of the best. And was one of them, himself. For readers under the age of 50, he might be remembered only for his stumblingly uttered philosophy of life, known world-wide as “Yogi-isms”.
Granted, they were comical and enduring. But those young ‘uns who came of age after the New York Yankee’s golden era might not know that Yogi Berra played in more World series games than anybody, played on more championship-winning teams, and was voted the American League’s MVP three times.
He holds the World Series record for the most hits (71), and he caught all nine innings of the only perfect game in Series history. Naturally, he’s in the Baseball of Fame. And he never made headlines for drug use, domestic violence, crude behavior or barroom brawling. He just played baseball. Yogi was also one of the best bad-ball hitters in the game. He frequently swung at balls outside the strike zone that opposing catchers were beginning to stretch for … and hit them out of the park. You had to love him.
He was the improbable hero, and seemed least likely to be quoted. But his words are repeated nowadays more than Shakespeare’s. And some Yogi-isms fit many of today’s travails.
One day when I was whitetail deer editor for Texas Fish & Game magazine, I was struggling on a column, as I often did. I don’t remember what prompted it. Maybe it was the lengthy and varying deer seasons that exist in Texas. I titled the column the same as this one, crediting Yogi for it. Then I explained, somewhat putting words into Yogi’s mouth:
“Yogi would probably agree that deer season is mostly over, although if he read the regulations, he might have qualified it like this: ‘It’s over in the counties where it’s not still open. But that part of the season is still going on that isn’t over, yet.”
I added that reading some of the game regulations made you wonder if Yogi had helped write them. Sometimes that’s because Parks and Wildlife tries to cover all bases and listens to its constituents. I described the regulation development practice in Yogi’s vernacular: “If the world weren’t perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
Public input is important. I urged readers to attend public hearings on regulations, quoting Yogi again: “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
Some of the public hearings get a little testy at times. About that, I wrote that another of Yogi’s witticisms might apply: “It’s impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.”
Sometimes the public doesn’t get what it wants and has to come back several times, each rejection
reminding of one of Berra’s most famous comments: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” As for the prospects of the public’s requests ever being honored, he no doubt would have called up another bit of his philosophy: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
I continued by writing about a game law proposal aimed at protecting immature buck deer, saying that Yogi might have viewed the situation by adding that “the deer that are being killed weren’t getting any older.”
I don’t remember my editor even commenting on that column, although he ran it in toto.
To parody a line from Saturday Night Live, “Baseball’s been Berra, Berra good to me.”
Rest in peace, Yogi.