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Yogi Berra's 'Yogi-isms' fit perfectly, even if he didn't say them all

Yogi Berra, catcher of world champion New York

Yogi Berra, catcher of world champion New York Yankees, smokes a peace pipe at club offices in New York, on Jan. 22, 1954, after signing a one-year contract for an estimated $42,000. Credit: AP

As Yogi Berra himself pointed out, he didn't really say everything he said. But that was beside the point.

The point was this: There was no one better to say them, even if he didn't.

Berra, a plain-speaking, plain-looking, plain-tastes guy from a Plains State served perfectly as a canvas on which others could project plain old American wisdom.

The fact that he always played along illustrated both his good nature and his subtle savvy.

So, here we are. It's never over for Yogi the icon, even if it's over for Yogi the man. He long ago came to a fork in the road and took it, allowing himself to be teased about his words while never losing his dignity or diminishing his legacy as a player.

No one is more responsible for Yogi-isms than his childhood friend from St. Louis, Joe Garagiola, who was not nearly the player Berra was, but compared with Yogi, he was a Hall of Fame talker.

Garagiola burnished Berra's image -- and his alleged quotations -- during a long career as a voluble raconteur, game announcer, talk show guest and morning show host, roles in which Berra would have been a fish out of water.

But the actual provenance of most of Yogi's sayings is so muddled that determining their rightful origins is a mostly joyless task best left to historical researchers.

For example: Does it matter that others were decades ahead of Berra in his complaint about a popular restaurant that "nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded"?

It does not. All that matters is that it is so in its own twisted way, a truism we encounter in our daily lives.

Same goes for most of Berra's best Yogi-isms. As he himself pointed out about people who expect him to make one up on the spot, it doesn't work that way. "They're the truth," he said.

"It ain't over 'til it's over" is the truest and most ubiquitous of all, which Berra said he first uttered during the Mets' late rally to a division title when he was their manager in 1973.

But after confirming that origin in an interview with The New York Times language columnist William Safire in 1987, Berra claimed to have had nothing to do with originating "it's deja vu all over again."

Or the one about how "you should always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours."

No matter who said it, alas, it is time for those words of wisdom to be tested. But there is no danger of Berra being short on friends and admirers in death, not after 90 richly lived years.

The words of wisdom he left behind are just a bonus.

Before Berra came to be known for them, the Yankees' most well-known purveyor of entertaining malapropisms was Casey Stengel, a fellow Missourian and Berra's manager during the glory days.

But Stengel was different. He went off on long, loopy tangents and loved playing to crowds with his verbal stylings. Berra did not seek such attention. He was foremost a ballplayer, as well as a family man and a veteran of the D-Day invasion of France in 1944.

If the rest of us wanted to project deep thoughts onto him, well, that was fine, too.

After all, as everyone knows, baseball is 90 percent mental and only half physical and yet, paradoxically, you can't think and hit at the same time.

It's all confusing, really, but Berra helped to clarify things, and remind us that you can observe a lot in life by watching.

So, farewell, Yogi. Perhaps one cannot say of a 90-year-old that he is gone too soon. But still . . . It gets late early out here.

New York Sports