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The wisdom of Yogi
It would be very easy to write a column on a superstar athlete who said, “Always go to other peoples funerals or they won't go to yours,” or when giving directions to his home responded, “When you get to the fork of the road, take it.”
Yes, these and many more were uttered from the second-greatest catcher who ever lived — Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra.
Much is made from poking fun at the almost cartoon-like character who played 18 years for the New York Yankees, but there was also a great deal of wisdom behind that mask.
Let's get the statistics out of the way first. Yogi played 18 seasons for the New York Yankees. He played in fourteen World Series, winning 10 — yes, 10 — world championships. He was voted Most Valuable Player three times. How much money would he demand in today's market?
In 1950, he hit .322, drove in 128 runs, hit 28 home runs and caught 151 games out of 154. He asked for $40,000, the general manager of the Yankees offered $22,000 and they settled on $30,000.
Wisdom comes from the man who said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Yogi is happy for the high-priced players of today because when he played, the owners made millions and the players made nothing.
Can you imagine the greatest catcher of his era having to work a second job as a greeter in a St. Louis restaurant in the offseason? Even though he did say about the popular eatery, “Nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded.”
Berra had only an eighth grade education, but made sure his three sons went to college. Yogi knew the value of a college degree. Maybe that occurred because he roomed with Bobby Brown, the Yankee third baseman. Brown was a medical student who studied constantly during the season. Each night on the road, Brown studied medicine and Yogi read the comic strips. After turning out the lights, Yogi asked Brown, “How did your story turn out?”
In a day when performance enhancing drugs, spray from antler horns and pumping blood are the rage, Yogi Berra knew what hard work was about in sports. He ate six hot dogs and three bags of popcorn to keep up his energy when he caught both ends of a doubleheader. Yogi is 88 and healthy. Yogi disliked catching both games, saying “Anyone doesn't like to go to work again after he went to work and figured he's done.”
The man who said, “Never answer an anonymous letter,” was a navy veteran that loaded rockets on the 36-foot boat off the Normandy coast in the 1945 invasion. He volunteered for the rocket ship because, “I thought it sounded like something out of Buck Rogers.”
“Ninty-percent of the game is half mental” makes you do a double take, but Yogi points out in the 1950's the Supreme Court ruled baseball was a sport, not a business, the reserve clause was on the books and players were bound to their teams and couldn't negotiate with another team. “But owners could pack their bags and move to any city they wanted.”
For the man who was honored at a sports banquet and responded, “I want to thank you for making this day necessary.” comes a great player that brought comic relief to the sport. Yogi Berra valued winning and teamwork over statistics and salaries.
Yogi was one of a kind, and who knows, maybe someday we could have another Yogi.
It would be, “deja vu all over again.”