LITTLE FALLS, New Jersey. Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, one of the most quoted individuals of all time, appeared today at a forum for scholars of his work at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center here in an effort to shape how posterity will appraise his many aphorisms.
“For those of you who came by Interstate 287 from Parsippany, I’m glad you took the fork in the road,” Berra said to the assembled professors, who immediately recognized the allusion to one of his more widely-known malapropisms.
“I didn’t really say everything I said,” the fifteen-time All-Star continued after the academics’ laughter had died down. “On the other hand, I said a lot of things I don’t get credit for.”
Asked to give an example, Yogi regaled his listeners with an anecdote from the 1958 World Series. “Hank Aaron was up to bat for the Braves, and I called time and went out to the mound. I told Whitey Ford, ‘Don’t throw this guy nothing but breaking stuff, okay? Remember how he teed off on us last year?’” Milwaukee had defeated the Yankees, four games to three, in the 1957 fall classic as Aaron homered three times for the Braves.
“I went back behind the plate and Whitey goes into his wind-up. The knucklehead throws a fast ball first pitch, and Aaron blasts it into the left-field bleachers. So I go out to the mound and says to him ‘Hey, you mook! Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it!’”
When Susan van de Velde, a professor of history at Bucknell University, commented that most scholars attribute that adage to George Santayana, Berra defended his claim. “Santayana’s a bush leaguer. Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain–those guys have been quoted more than me. But Santayana? Gimme a break!”
Yogi continued in this vein with a story from his first full year with the Yankees, 1947. “I was with the Newark Bears the year before, and Phil Rizzuto and Joe DiMaggio sorta took me under their wings when I got to New York. You know–three goombahs. We were at the Copacabana one night-everybody was there. Seabiscuit jumped up on stage and started singing ‘All of Me’ with Sammy Davis, Jr. It was wild!”
“Anyway, I was new to the night life, it was two in the morning, and I was gettin’ kinda tired. So I says to Rizzuto, ‘I think I’m gonna take a cab home.’ And he says, “You know, Yogi, that’s probably not a bad idea.’ And I says, ‘Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
Professor Jeffrey Weiner of Brandeis University objected that, although sometimes attributed to Goethe, this maxim had been definitively traced to Victor Hugo; again Yogi stood his ground. “Victor Hugo?” he snapped at the young scholar. “Please-Victor Hugo couldn’t carry my spikes to the ballpark!”
The 89-year old Yankee great began to tire from the lively debate, and the Museum’s director told the audience it was time to bring the symposium to a close. “I’ll take one more question,” Yogi indicated, “but make it short, cause like Casey Stengel used to say, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.”
A English professor in attendance called up the text to Hamlet on his laptop computer and showed Berra that this phrase appears in Act II, Scene 2 of that play by Shakespeare. “You better check your dates, pal,” Yogi said with an uplifted eyebrow that conveyed the depths of his disdain. “Casey was a pretty old guy the first time I met him, and he always said a lot of sayings.”
A teaching assistant in the crowd who proclaimed himself a baseball “nut” rose to ask the Hall of Fame catcher which he thought was his greater accomplishment-the three MVP awards that Berra won with the Yankees, which place him in a six-way tie for second-place behind Barry Bonds, or his 358 career home runs, a record for catchers that stood for 18 years.
“Well, you know something?” he began. “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
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