Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Finally, it's over

So Yogi Berra has gone to his considerable reward, and now all the mythic lines come out to play.

"It ain't over 'til it's over. RIP, Yogi," someone says/tweets/posts on Facebook.

"It's deja vu all over again," someone else chimes in.

"No one goes there nowadays, it's too crowded," yet another someone adds.

On and on they all go, and if that is Yogi's legacy, it doesn't get him even half right. Yes, he is the man who once allegedly said "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." And, yes, he is the man who also allegedly said "You can observe a lot by watching," and "We made too many wrong mistakes" and "You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."

But if his real and imagined malaprops will echo down the centuries, making us smile in a way few other sporting figures have ever made us smile, they obscure a greater truth: Yogi Berra was more than just a fun quote. He was, in every sense of the word, a man in full.

And so we'd do well to remember today a Navy man who was in harm's way off Omaha Beach on D-Day, and whose vessel capsized that terrible morning with him on it. We'd do well to remember him as the baseball man who caught Whitey Ford and Vic Raschi and Allie Reynolds and Don Larsen, the brains behind a Yankee operation that won 10 World Series with him behind the dish. And we'd do well to remember him as perhaps the greatest and most enduring performer in World Series history, a player who, at his death, still held club records for most World Series games played (75),  most World Series at-bats (259), most World Series hits (71) and most World Series doubles (10).

If Johnny Bench wasn't the greatest catcher ever to play the game, then Yogi was. In 19 seasons, 18 with the Yankees, he hit .300 or better three times, drove in more than 100 runs five times and finished with 358 home runs -- including 305 as a catcher, a record for the position at the time.

He went on to manage franchises in both leagues to the World Series, and before his long, decorated life was done, he even held an honorary doctorate from Montclair (N.J.) State. And so while his former manager, Casey Stengel, liked to style himself the Old Perfesser, it was Yogi who got the last laugh. Casey might have been a Perfesser, but Yogi was a Doctor.

And far, far more than just a few colorful lines on a page. Apocryphal or not.

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