Berra, who was awkward behind the plate at the beginning of his career, worked hard under the guidance of guru Bill Dickey—"Bill is learning me all his experiences"—and he became an extraordinarily heads-up catcher. Between pitches he was full of chatty hospitality, but while he was distracting the hitter, he wasn't missing a trick himself. Indeed, Berra is computer-fast at adding up gin scores. "He would be a brilliant nuclear physicist," says Garagiola, "if he enjoyed that kind of thing."
And when Berra saw a bunt or a steal of home coming, he would spring forward before the pitch had reached the batter. "If anybody'd swung," he says, "they'd've creamed me." But no one ever did. Berra was especially effective on squeeze bunts. Twice in his career he grabbed the bunt, tagged the batter before he could get away and then dived back to tag the runner coming in from third. That ties him with several other catchers for the lifetime record for unassisted double plays. "I just touched everybody I could," Berra explained after one of them.
On another occasion, Billy Hunter of the Orioles missed a two-strike squeeze bunt attempt on a pitch that was in the dirt. Berra trapped the ball, slapped a sweeping tag on Hunter, who was entitled to run because the third strike had hit the ground, and wheeled to put the ball on Clint Courtney sliding in. Alas, the umpire ruled that Berra had missed Hunter. Otherwise, Berra would hold the catcher's single-handed d.p. record single-handedly. "Hunter was out, too," says Yogi today. "Out as the side of a barn."
The preceding Berraism is one that I just made up. I guess it won't do. It's Berraesque in that it entails a kind of refreshment of the concept of "out"—a soft-focus version of what E.E. Cummings called "precision which creates movement." (Cummings' own, not very pleasant, example of such precision came from vaudeville: "Would you hit a woman with a child?" "No, I'd hit her with a brick.")
But "out as the side of a barn" doesn't linger in the mind like Yogi's famous re-examination of two ordinary verbs: "You can observe a lot by watching." He actually did say that, except that it may have been "You observe by watching" in the original.
It's hard to make up a good Berraism.
One thing you cannot copy and that is the soul of another person or the spirit of another person.
If you can't imitate him, don't copy him.
I was determined to make up a Berraism for this story. One that would pass for real and go down in lore alongside "How long have you known me, Jack? And you still don't know how to spell my name." (Which is what Berra said—really and truly—when announcer Jack Buck compensated him for appearing on a pregame show with a check made out to Bearer.)
Here is an ersatz Berraism that I worked on for weeks: "Probably what a pitcher misses the most when he doesn't get one is a good target. Unless it never gets there." Nope. It's too busy. A real Berraism is more mysterious, yet simpler. Stengel once asked Berra what he would do if he found a million dollars. Yogi said, "If the guy was real poor, I'd give it back to him."