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December 13, 2023

A Great American Patriot and Sage

“Yogi looked like he was put together with spare parts…”

“A good moral character is the first essential in a man…” —George Washington

Among your Patriot editorial team, there are some sports fans.

Actually, “fans” in the case of Nate Jackson, Doug Andrews, and Thomas Gallatin is understated unless “fan” is shorthand for “fanatic.” And our Emmy Griffin was a tough collegiate soccer player and is our best writer on sporting controversies.

However, I am quick to admit that, though I “lettered” in college (if you consider collegiate tennis a “sport”), I have never had sufficient interest to be much of a sports fan — with the exception of seasonal college football rivalries (Go Vols).

Our editorial team is also quick to admit that my lack of knowledge (read: “interest”) about current sporting news is laughable — almost as laughable as my lack of knowledge (read: “interest”) in celebrity news. The exception would be when sporting news involves some gender-confused man, like the University of Pennsylvania’s William “Lia” Thomas, being invited to compete as a “woman” against actual women. As you recall, Thomas’s freestyle rank, as noted in a letter from UPenn’s women’s swim team objecting to his participation, “bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.” Consequently in 2022, he “won” the NCAA Division I women’s 500-yard freestyle event.

Subsequently, under the brief tenure of its then-new president Liz Magill, UPenn nominated Thomas, a Rainbow Mafia hero, for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year Award. Surreal…you just can’t make this stuff up. Magill should have been bounced for that idiocy, but she lasted an additional 16 months before demonstrating in Congressional testimony that she had no more ability to discern right from wrong regarding anti-Semitism than discerning right from wrong regarding men pretending to be women. (Of course, poor “Lia” Thomas could not get by the NCAA’s real Woman of the Year, MIT soccer player Karenna Groff. I mean, after all, the NCAA does note the award is for “female college athletes.”)

But I digress…

It’s not that I didn’t have adequate exposure to sports when I was young. I was thrilled to see baseball legends of the ‘70s ply their trade, including Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Reggie Jackson. I’ve met legendary pro football players over the years, including former UT quarterback Peyton Manning, a relative of my old next-door neighbor, Marshall Goree.

I’ve crossed paths with a few folks whose names most would recognize, including Arnold Palmer, a of my father, who was, himself, an outstanding golfer. And speaking of my Dad and sports, during World War II in 1945, he and my uncle received flight instruction in F4U Corsairs at NAS Pensacola from the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, who interrupted his baseball career to become a Marine aviator. According to my father, Williams was a “hard ass” instructor!

Thankfully, Harry Truman ended the Pacific War with nuclear weapons ahead of Dad’s squadron deployment for the invasion of Japan in 1945. Dad said that likely saved his life, and those of perhaps 150,000 other Americans and a million Japanese, who would have perished in the Operation Downfall invasion.

Today, along with Dad’s “classified” performance manuals for the F4U Corsair, we have military flight-training logbooks signed by Ted Williams.

Over the years, I’ve picked up some books signed by another famous baseball player, though I have no connection to him other than many years of admiration. I have quoted him often in my columns, most particularly in regard to how repeated political stupidity is “like déjà vu all over again.”

Yeah, those are the inimitable words of baseball’s preeminent philosophical sage, that famed catcher/slugger/manager of New York Yankees fame, Yogi Berra.

Like Ted Williams, Yogi paused his baseball career to serve in WWII — a Navy gunner’s mate in the D-Day Normandy invasion. He was wounded but declined any documentation for a Purple Heart because he didn’t want his mother to receive notification he’d been wounded. Still, his service is documented by his Distinguished Unit Citation, two battle stars, and a European Theatre of Operations ribbon.

A year after the war, Yogi resumed playing with the Yankees, where he was a catcher (and a strong hitter) for their championship years between 1949 and 1962, retiring a year later to become a manager, then going on to coach and manage the New York Mets until his celebrated return to coach the Yankees for eight seasons. Astoundingly, he was a player, coach, or manager in every one of the 13 World Series won by New York teams between 1947 and 1981. Yogi was a winner unlike any other in baseball history. He was also an 18-time All-Star and a three-time MVP, and he hit more home runs than he had strikeouts in five separate seasons.

I wouldn’t know any of those stats, or much else other than Yogi’s “Yogi-isms,” if not for an outstanding 2022 documentary, “It Ain’t Over,” which is narrated by his adoring granddaughter, Lindsay. Yogi died in 2015, but he lives large in this film. You can watch the trailer here.

For a guy who ain’t a sports fan, I was mesmerized. If I have spare time these days, it preferably involves something that makes a lot of noise and then hustles downrange. But this one is worth letting the mags rest and the barrels cool.

Of his famous malapropisms, Lindsay Berra says: “People used to ask me all the time, ‘does he really talk like that?’ Yes, 100%. He was always just very short, very to-the-point, very able to cut through all the crap. Many of us have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees, and grandpa saw everything, all at the same time. He was a great person to go to for advice because he was always able to just distill the situation down to its simplest parts.”

A little spoiler alert: The documentary does a great job of juxtaposing some of his quotes against other notables.

For example: Robert Frost famously wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled.” Or as Yogi said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Winston Churchill declared, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in.” Or as Yogi said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

Albert Einstein observed: “Time does not exist — we invented it. Time is what the clock says. The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” In other words, as Yogi put it more succinctly, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Clearly, what Yogi was most proud of was his 65-year marriage to Carmen, who preceded him in death by a year. Of their early romance, Yogi wrote: “I was bashful, nervous, not good-looking. I could hardly believe my luck that Carmen liked me as much as I liked her.” At the time of her death, they had three sons, 11 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

As for Yogi’s faith, Jon Pessah, noted sports writer and author of the biography, Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask, wrote that growing up, “St. Ambrose was the center of the universe” for Yogi, and that he was faithful through his life. Pessah said Yogi was his favorite of all players, adding: “Yogi did not look like a baseball player. Yogi looked like he was put together with spare parts: short legs, long torso, big bulging shoulders that made him look like he didn’t have a neck.”

Of the baseball Hall of Famer’s genuine humility, Pessah wrote: “I knew how different he was than he was portrayed. I didn’t know how quiet of a guy Yogi was. Everyone from people on the Hill who grew up with him … said the same thing as people on his baseball teams and people who were in his large circle of friends in New Jersey, that Yogi was essentially a very quiet man bordering on being shy.”

Former Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who took over for Yogi’s close friend Joe Torre, recalled Berra making him feel at ease as the new manager, asking, “Do you mind if I leave early some games so I can get to Mass on time?”

Notably, after the MLB “color line” was broken in 1947, Yogi was front and center welcoming Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball. Robinson inspired the first Black sports writer, Claire Smith, who says, “There’s no Jackie without the acceptance of Yogi Berra.” Yogi also became close friends with Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League.

Yogi was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he is memorialized at the Yogi Berra Park in his native St. Louis.

You can find lots of lists claiming to be the “Best of Yogi” wit and wisdom. According to Parade or USA Today or Major League Baseball, there is no shortage of wisdom from this 5’ 7" giant of a sage.

I rarely do lists, having last compiled one three years ago — a compendium of the wit and wisdom of another sage I admire, Mark Twain. I recently quoted two of his observations: “There are three kinds of lies — lies, damned lies, and statistics,” and, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

It’s even tougher to select some favorites from Yogi.

Before getting to that list, I humbly ask that you please invest in the future of Liberty by supporting The Patriot Post, the Web’s most influential grassroots journal promoting freedom. Our mission is 100% funded by the voluntary financial support of Patriots like you. Please support The Patriot Fund’s Year-End Campaign today.

And, to the short list of Yogi-isms:

“I didn’t really say everything I said.”
“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
“Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.”
“I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.”
“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
“If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”
“It gets late early out here.”
“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”
“Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”
“It was hard to have a conversation with anyone. There were too many people talking.”
“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hittin’.”
“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
“You can observe a lot just by watchin’.”
“You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
“I knew the record would stand until it was broken.”
“Never answer an anonymous letter.”
“You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
“So I’m ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face.”
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”
“The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.”
“Pair up in threes.”
“You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.”
“We made too many wrong mistakes.”
“What time is it? You mean right now?”
“If people don’t want to come to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?”
“We’re lost, but we’re making good time.”

And my personal favorite, given the economic mess Joe Biden has created: “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

God bless you, Yogi Berra!

P.S. Patriots, the most cost-effective investment you can make to ensure the future of Liberty is to support The Patriot Post, the Web’s most influential grassroots journal promoting freedom. Our mission is 100% funded by the voluntary financial support of Patriots like you. Please support The Patriot Fund’s Year-End Campaign today. Thank you.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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