t ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” the wisest of the philosophers of sport famously said, but now it really, really is. They don’t make ‘em like Yogi Berra any more, who disdained cliches like this one to make up his own.
Yogi died Tuesday night in a nursing home near his home in New Jersey, aged 90, and he left behind an anthology of aphorisms that transcend baseball, the thinking man’s sport. Baseball has none of football’s smash-mouth violence, none of basketball’s thrashing, dunking and running up and down the floor in gaudy underwear. Only baseball could have produced Yogi, who said goofy things with nuggets of insight and common-sense wisdom. We laughed, but with an acknowledgment and envy of his gift for making words dance.
There’s something about baseball that attracts the different, the unusual and the oddball, and makes the rest of us take oddballs to heart. Dizzy Dean, the St. Louis Cardinals’ merry prankster of the Depression years who lived up to his name and then some, left such a mark on the language. When the English teachers of St. Louis complained that he made their job of stamping out “ain’t” difficult, Diz replied, “Well, a lot of folks who ‘ain’t’ saying ain’t, ain’t eatin’, either.”
Yogi’s sayings were not an assault on the Queen’s English but an exercise in how to enrich the language. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Well, who hasn’t, and sometimes lived not to regret it? “Never answer an anonymous letter.” That’s good advice for every man. “We made too many wrong mistakes.” Generations of politicians in Washington heartily, sadly and entirely