Messrs. Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, step aside for a Real Philosopher. Yield way to the only man in the 20th century whose aperc¸us are quoted as often as those of Winston Churchill.
Who's that? you ask. Tsk-tsk. The sage and seer Yogi Berra, of course, the thinker about whom the late A. Bartlett Giamatti observed, "Talking to Yogi Berra about baseball is like talking to Homer about the gods." Who else, indeed. For shame.
To coincide with the opening of the baseball season, Yogi and his family have just published a collection of his more sapient mots, entitled The Yogi Book: I Really Didn 't Say Everything I Said (Workman, 127p., $7.95). In it Yogi himself provides context and circumstance to illuminate many of the brilliant observations that have since floated free in our nation's consciousness. Perhaps it is merely his sop to scholarly pedants, but it also offers a welcome service to those who have cited him far too casually, unaware of the existential moment, so to speak.
The most famous quotables are all here: "It's de´ja` vu all over again" and "It ain't over till it's over" and "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore" and "Ninety percent of the game is half mental" and "Slump? I ain't in no slump.... I just ain't hitting" and "You can observe a lot by watching" and (after being asked about a very popular restaurant in St. Louis) "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
Some resonate with that ping of profundity that even Ludwig Wittgenstein would envy, such as: "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be" or "The future ain't what it used to be" or (about Carmen, his devoted wife of 50 years) "We have a good time together even when we're not together."
Carmen and their three sons contribute some Yogisms that are not yet in general circulation. One night, after she had induced him to see the opera "Tosca," Carmen asked him on the way home what he thought of it, and Yogi replied, "I really liked it. Even the music was good." At another time, when Yogi was driving the family to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N. Y., he got completely lost but assured Carmen, "We're lost but we're making good time." On another occasion, they were invited to dinner at the White House by then-President Ford. Afterwards, Yogi complained that "it was hard to have a conversation with anyone; there were too many people talking."
The Yogi Book also manages to capture many of the genuinely nice and generous-spirited qualities of his character and upbringing. Once a reporter asked him, "What would you do if you found a million dollars?" Yogi answered with complete sincerity, "I'd see if I could find the guy that lost it, and if he was poor, I'd give it back." One day at home, his son Larry called to his father who was taking a shower and told him, "Dad, the guy is here for the Venetian blinds." Yogi called back, "Look in my pants pocket and give him five bucks."
Yogi also remains unabashed about some of his quirks. Once his teammates were ribbing him about the decrepit, frayed luggage he always carried, and Yogi told them, "Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel." On another occasion, a teammate asked him the time, and Yogi replied, "You mean now?" Once during spring training when the team traditionally was fitted for new uniforms. Yogi was asked, "What size cap do you want?" He responded, "I don't know. I'm not in shape yet."
But let's end with a quintessential Yogism: "Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours."