Yogi Berra is a Yankees institution. The Hall-of-Fame backstop is the owner of an unparalleled legacy: 10 World Series championships, three American League MVP awards (amid a seven-year stretch in which he finished top-four in voting), and a collection of aphorisms and malapropisms that have worked their way into the cultural lexicon.
And while it’s important to remember he was a truly great player — a 15-time All-Star and one of the best catchers in baseball history — there is a reason he’s also cherished for his witticisms. They weren’t just funny; they were wise, too.
The tumult of 2020 — first the Astros’ cheating scandal, then the postponement of the season due to the novel coronavirus — is the perfect moment to revisit some of these Yogi-isms, because as Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
Below are a few of Berra’s classic quotes that are relevant to the Yankees’ current state of affairs, words of wisdom that ring as true now as they must have when he first shared them.
“Ninety percent of the game is half mental.”
His math might have been a bit confusing, but Berra’s quote was prescient for the modern Yankees in two ways: their commitment to the numbers, and their embrace of a more player-oriented management style.
The hiring of Aaron Boone illustrates these principles. He was brought on to build relationships in the clubhouse and connect with players on a personal level, but he has also been receptive to the front office’s analytics-heavy approach.
Matt Blake, the team’s newly appointed pitching coach, is another example of these priorities. Blake is technology and data-driven, but also brings a background in psychology and philosophy to his work with the staff.
“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Today is May 7th, and not a single meaningful Major League Baseball game has been played. On my darker days, the 2020 season has started to feel like it has slipped away. But Berra’s words provide the perfect reminder to remain hopeful.
The Yankees, along with the rest of the stakeholders in the MLB season, don’t seem ready to give up. In the past weeks, the league has shown a willingness to do something it has long been loath to do: innovate.
Myriad creative plans have been floated to get the season up and running, from building a baseball bubble in the desert to radically realigning the divisions. And a real proposal to restart play is in the works.
The situation might seem daunting at the moment, but it ain’t over yet.
“If people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s going to stop them.”
According to Berra, he first made this declaration about the poor attendance of Kansas City Athletics games, back before the team moved to Oakland. In recent years, league-wide attendance has been flagging, as well, driven in part by how modern fans consume sports.
The pandemic has also presented an entirely new attendance challenge. If and when baseball returns to Yankee Stadium, it will likely do so with empty stands. And even when fans are invited back, they might be slow to arrive. The novel coronavirus will still be a part of our world, and fans could be reluctant to pack the ballpark
The Yankees, and the rest of baseball, can’t make folks come out to the games. How will they adjust?
“In baseball, you don’t know nothing.”
Like most Yankees fans, I spend every offseason pondering and projecting what the upcoming year has in store for the team. I usually whiff on a few (okay, a lot) of my predictions, but 2020 ushered in a new experience: for the first time, each and every single one of us was wrong about every single preseason forecast.
There’s no real joy in the explanation — the postponement of the season. But it’s another instance of Yogi’s insight proving invaluable: baseball, like the world generally, is so maddeningly (and sometimes delightfully) complex that no matter how much we learn, no matter how many new stats we compile, our knowledge will always be dwarfed by the sheer volume of what we don’t know.
That’s good news, as far as I’m concerned. Sure, no one saw this mess of a season coming. But that also means we’re yet to discover the pleasures it will offer if and when it creaks back to life.
“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”
What else is there to add to a perfect quote? It’s been an unsettling few months. Here’s hoping for a summer that offers plenty of both love and baseball for everyone.