Lawrence "Yogi" Berra was born in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri. He lived on "The Hill," which my father-in-law (also from St. Louis and born three years later) called "Dago Hill," a slang (and derogatory, I realize, but it adds to the flavor of St. Louis and the era) term for Italians. Like all the kids of their time, cork ball in the streets of the city was how baseball was learned.
Berra was known for scrappy play as catcher for the NY Yankees from 1946 - 1963, and he was an active part of a team that went to the World Series 14 times while he played winning 10 times. Berra is a Hall of Fame player who moved baseball from the radio and ballpark era to the television era, noted in David Halberstam's "Summer of '49." Berra was aggressive behind the plate and was a hitter as well. When being teased by his teammates for his ugly facial features, Berra noted, "You don't hit with your face."
Berra had a serious side to him, having served in the Navy in World War II participating in the invasion of Normandy.
We know him best for his "yogi-isms," and they are many. When asked for directions to his house, he knew that the driver would come to a fork in the road, which he also knew either choice would get you there. We know it as the "when you come a fork in the road, take it" comment. As a lifetime learner of the sport, he noted once that with baseball, "You can observe a lot just by watching." And of course, his observations were keen having been a catcher turned manager. When discussing his team, he once stated astutely, "We made too many wrong mistakes."
Berra is the end of an era for us. He was the last of a period in which baseball was unrivaled and the last of a dynasty in the NY Yankees. Baseball is much more statistical these days with its sophisticated "metric" system. Casey Stengel, a fellow Missourian who managed the Yankees while Berra was the catcher, chose to ignore stats and followed his instincts. Angry with a heavily hung-over Mickey Mantel early in Mantle's career, Stengel finally pulled him off the bench just to make him suffer and at least go bat. Mantle begged off, but Stengel made him bat. The story is that Mantle went out and promptly hit a home run, jogged the bases, and returned to the bench. Stengel's point languished in Mantle's success.
Yet for those of us who saw Berra as a manager (and some may have seen him play), that era is gone, and Berra's passing tells us that. The generation that defined the United States in the 20th century is slipping away from us.
So, we are left to wonder if Berra's observation will hold true. "You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours." One observation we note that holds no truth is this, "It ain't over 'til it's over." Yogi, as believers, it's never over. Our lives may slip away from grip of our earthly existence, but the promise of Christ's resurrection is there for us all. So, we will meet one day and see if God is enjoying your presence as much as we did, complete with an interpreter.
We are saddened by his passing, and saddened further that the generation that served us so well in so many ways leaves us, but we rejoice in the resurrection and everlasting life provided for us. It won't be the same without Yogi. As he once said, "The future, it ain't what it used to be."
Hope Men's Ministry