As I’m sure we will see … he attended a lot of funerals

What is a philosopher?  I’ve always taken it that a philosopher is someone who, in writing or verbally, comments on the meaning of existence or the hows and whys of the coming and goings of the day.  In short, everyone, is a philosopher.

If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.

It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.

The truly great philosophers … the Aristotles, Descartes, Kierkegards, etc … these are the people who see the universe for more than others see it, and widen the perception of our species by sharing what they perceive.

The future ain’t what it used to be.

If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.

It’s deja vu all over again.

Philosophers certainly can comment on the existential crisis of human existence or the creation of the multiverse, or the meaning of love.  Some philosophers enlighten us by commenting on the day-to-day … the routine and mundane, but do so in ways that we mere mortals would never usually think of …

Nobody goes there anymore … it’s too crowded.

We lost because we made too many wrong mistakes.

A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.

You wouldn’t have won if we had beaten you.

(on ordering pizza) cut it in four slices, I can’t eat six.

Sometimes philosophers give very simple, pragmatic advice on living …

Make a game plan and stick to it, unless its not working.

Never answer an anonymous letter.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Perhaps the most timely quote …

Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.

Lorenzo Pietro Berra grew up in the Dago Hill section of St. Louis, which at the time was essentially an Italian slum.  He was dirt poor.  He wasn’t bright.  When a teacher once asked him if he knew anything, he supposedly responded “Mamm, I don’t even suspect anything.”  As a boy, he was clumsy, and couldn’t walk normally.  One story says that his friends said that he just walked like a Yogi … a buffoonish clown.  Another story noted that he would often sit Indian style on the sidelines, and someone noted that he looked like an Eastern mystic.  Whatever the story, the name stuck.  Yogi was the kind of guy who, if he was lucky, would have become a union tradesman and made a decent if not anonymous living.  As a young boy, he was a bus boy and waiter at Rigazzi’s Restaurant with a friend named Joe Garagiola (who would catch for the hometown Cardinals before becoming one of the greatest broadcasters in MLB history).  He also sold newspapers where one of his regular customers was Cardinals star Joe “Ducky” Medwick.  He always let Berra keep the nickel for the 3 cent paper.  It made an impression on Yogi.

Berra’s future was one where he grew into an athlete both graceful and powerful.  As a young catcher, he was one of two decent catchers on the team.  The Yankees decided to keep Berra and sent Sherm Lollar to the White Sox where he became the second best catcher in the American League over that era.  At the time of his retirement, he had been named to 18 All-Star Games, won three MVP Awards (no American League catcher has yet to match that total).  His record for World Series games played, at-bats, and hits are still intact.  He was a member of 10 World Series champions … more than any player in the history of the game.  His record for home runs by a catcher stood for 20 years until Johnny Bench broke it … it remained the American League record for nearly a decade longer until Carlton Fisk broke that one.  He managed the Yankees to the 1964 World Series, and the Mets to the World Series in 1973 … the only man to lead both current New York franchises to the Fall classic.  He was a coach for the Mets in 1969 when the “Miracle Mets” won the Series, and was a coach in the Bronx Zoo for the 1977 and 1978 Yankee World Series championships.  13 World Series rings in all … no one is even close to that total.

In World War II, Yogi was in the Navy.  Like some stars, he didn’t spend his time behind the lines raising money for war bonds (certainly an important job in and of itself).  On D-Day, Yogi was part of a six man crew who fired on Nazi positions on Normandy Beach.  Like everyone that day, he came under fire, but did his part.  He was an active participant and witness to one of the most important moments in military history.

Lately, he has spent a lot of time working with his museum and learning center.  He has conducted lectures to kids on character and baseball and life.  He can talk personally about coming from poverty.  He can  talk about being a friend.  As Phil Rizzuto lay dying, the story goes that Yogi drove the 45 minutes everyday to see his old friend.  They would talk, and as Phil would drift to sleep, Yogi would hold his hand, reassuring him that he wasn’t alone.

And yet … it is his distinctive way with words that turned him from a baseball legend to someone who is known far beyond the bounds of baseball and sport.  Some people who didn’t know the man swore that these statements had to be planned in advance and given for comic effect.  Those who knew him, including his own son, were quite certain that this was in fact how he spoke all of the time, and that these thoughts were not invented in advance.  One question he was asked by those who would ask it was “Did you really say all those things”.  Once in an interview, the sage of the Bronx gave about as good an answer as he could ever give:

I didn’t really say everything I said.

A truly sad day in baseball … rest in peace to our emeritus philosopher in residence and one of the all time greatest catchers to put on the pads and mask.

Edit (9/26/2015):  I just remembered one of those little gem moments from film. There is a scene in the 1962 romcom That Touch of Mink with Cary Grant and Doris Day where the pair date at a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, getting the best seats in the house (in the Yankee dugout).  What ensues:


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