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Roy Blount Jr.
April 02, 1984
As a reincarnated Yankee skipper, Yogi Berra is working for George Steinbrenner. Is Yogi worried about longevity? No. He knows a managing job, like a ball game, ain't over 'til it's over
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April 02, 1984


As a reincarnated Yankee skipper, Yogi Berra is working for George Steinbrenner. Is Yogi worried about longevity? No. He knows a managing job, like a ball game, ain't over 'til it's over

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Nor do I. I feel bound to report, however, that there's at least one other version of the story. Same dialogue, only between Yogi and someone it would be hard for witnesses to confuse with Mary Lindsay: umpire Hank Soar.

Bill Veeck once maintained that "Yogi is a completely manufactured product. He is a case study of this country's unlimited ability to gull itself and be gulled.... You say 'Yogi' at a banquet, and everybody automatically laughs, something Joe Garagiola discovered to his profit many years ago."

What Berra says about his sayings, in general, is "I always say I said half of them, and Joe said the other half." This is apt but untrue. Certainly Garagiola, who grew up with Berra in St. Louis on what was known then as Dago Hill and who is working on a book about those days, has done as much for Berra's legend as the Beatles did for the Maharishi's. For one thing, as Berra says, "Joe can remember stories better than I can. I can't remember them." It follows that Yogi isn't the best authority for what he actually said. (And nobody else is, either.) Sometimes he will say, "I could've probably said that." Sometimes he will say he never said things that you wish he wouldn't deny saying. For instance, he claims he never said, "How can you think and hit at the same time?" It's a cold-blooded historian indeed who's willing to take Berra's word for that.

It may even be that Berra did think and hit at the same time. "Any hitter as good as Yogi was had to have an idea up there," says Yankee coach Mickey Vernon, who played against him for years. But when you ask Berra if it's true that he always hit high pitches well, he says, "They told me I did. I didn't know. If I could see it good, I'd hit it. Some of them I'd swing at, and some of them I wouldn't because I didn't see them good." Berra's old teammate Phil Rizzuto claims, "I've seen him hit them on the bounce; I've seen him leave his feet to hit them."

There's no doubt that Berra thought about other people's hitting. Ted Williams says Berra would notice subtle shifts of an opposing batter's feet that no other catcher would notice. "Berra knows how to pitch to everybody in the league except himself," said Stengel. But then, nobody knew how to pitch to Berra. "He could pull anything inside," says Vernon. "They'd try to throw him two pitches inside and hope he'd pull them foul, and then they'd go outside on him. And he'd take that to the opposite field."

Yankee player-coach Lou Piniella, who says, "When I'm feeling good I'm a player, when I'm feeling bad I'm a coach," studies hitting mechanics meticulously with the aid of videotape. He insists that thinking and hitting are thoroughly compatible. However, he concedes that "the paramount thing is to see the damn baseball." And New York outfielder Steve Kemp says, "Baseball is a game that if you think too much, it'll eat you up."

Let us remind ourselves that if Berra did say what he says he didn't say about thinking and hitting, he didn't say you can't think and hit at the same time. He just raised the eternal question "How can you?" And even if he didn't say it, he deserves to be credited with saying it because he's such a great example of the athlete who doesn't distract himself. Berra was so attuned to his Batting Self that he didn't consciously have to focus his mind on hitting. Asked if he ever studied his swing on videotape, he cringes. "I don't like seeing myself on television," he says. "I don't like it."

Concentration is the narrowing of the field of attention, the fixing of the mental eye upon a chosen object.
Seven Schools of Yoga

You only got one guy to concentrate on. He throws the ball.

Many putative Berraisms are clearly bogus. Jim Piersall, a player of Berra's era, tells banquet audiences that someone once asked Berra, "Why don't you get your kids an encyclopedia?" Yogi answered, "Listen here, buddy, when I went to school, I walked. So can they." In the New York Mirror in 1959 Dan Parker wrote that someone once said to Yogi, "Why, you're a fatalist," and Yogi answered, "You mean I save postage stamps? Not me."

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