A Yankee post, a baseball post, maybe even a universal post: Yogi Berra, one if the great singular characters of baseball, is dead at 90.
Can I guess that even those here who've expressed total ignorance of/lack of interest in the sport know his name? Back in 1979, a college girlfriend visited me, and I took her to a game at Yankee Stadium. She'd been living abroad for several years, and was totally unfamiliar with the players, even though they'd won two straight World Series, and included Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson. But when I told her the first base coach was Yogi Berra...yiu'd have thought I said Captain Kangaroo, so quickly and happily did she recognize the name.
Because of his cartoonish looks -- which inspired an actual famous cartoon character -- and the goofy stories Joe Garagiola told about him, and, of course, the legendary quotes, younger generations, if they know him, probably think of him as a bit of a clown. But he was a three-time MVP (as Bill James says, think sbout that: three times, the baseball writers said, hey, Yogi Berra's the best player in the American League). He holds a probably unbreakable record for World Series rings and hits. He's one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.
And, because of those quotes, he'll live forever. Even if you know zip about baseball, you've said/heard "it's deja vu all over again" or "it ain't over till it's over" or "it gets late early out there", which means you know Yogi. As many have pointed out, the quotes are funny to hear, but they last because they have a certain Zen truth to them that make the nickname Yogi feel just right. "No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded" is an epigram of near-genius.
And, in a world where we spend way too much time hating on people, he was a figure of seeming pure benevolence. The very thought of Yogi Berra evoked smiles. He had a long, blessed life, but the world is a bit sadder without him.
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