If any sports figure can be deemed to be a truly "original" character, one who has never been, and probably never will be duplicated, it is Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, who died yesterday in New Jersey at the age of 90.
A member of Baseball's Hall of Fame, a case can be made that Berra was and remains the greatest catcher in baseball history. The obituary that appears in today's New York Times (and I highly recommend that you read it; it is easy enough to seek out and find on line) makes that case, but it also tells of the Yogi Berra who was a part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944 and who was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in the War. It also tells of his 65 year marriage to his wife Carmen. But if it is baseball stuff you want, consider these facts about his nineteen year playing career....
- A .285 lifetime batting average, 358 home runs and 1,430 RBI, and a career OPS of .830
- A fifteen time All-Star
- A three time MVP
- Only 430 strike outs in over 8,300 plate appearances
- A participant in 21 World Series, fourteen of them as a player, and a member of ten World Series winning teams
- He still holds World Series records for games played (75), plate appearances, hits (71), and doubles
However, in spite of all of those accomplishments, Berra is most famous for his wacky quotes and aphorisms, some of which he actually said, that have become a part of our everyday language, and are used by people who probably have no idea who Yogi Berra actually was. You know the most famous of them:
- "90% of this game is mental, the other half is physical"
- "Nobody ever goes there anymore, it's always too crowded."
- "It gets late early out there."
- "You can observe a lot just by watching."
and of course the most famous of all, and it really is true, in life and in baseball,
- "It ain't over 'til it's over."
Yet for all of Yogi's great lines, perhaps the best line of all comes not from Yogi himself, but from that Times obituary. In referencing all those pennants and World Series, the Times simply said, "No other player has been a champion so often."
What an epitaph.
RIP Yogi Berra.