In addition to having been one of the greatest ballplayers and most iconic baseball figures of all time, Yogi Berra, who passed away at the age of 90, was, of course, in many ways, almost as well-known for his wonderful way with words.
While, at first glance his famous quotes might appear perplexing (as well as hilarious – whether intentionally or not), when pried open they are found to contain wondrous pearls of wisdom.
Whether on the ballfield, at work, or in life, here are just a few ways in which we might benefit from practicing what Yogi preached…even if he really didn’t say everything he said:
- “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” His most famous quote reminds us of two very important, but very different, things: One is to be careful not declare victory prematurely. The other is that until something is official, there’s always still hope.
- “Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.” There are too many people out there who are “takers.” As Wharton professor and author Adam Grant emphasizes in his excellent bestseller, “Give and Take,” it’s important, and the right thing to do, to reciprocate. Or, even better, simply to be generous.
- “He’s learning me all of his experience.” Said about the future Hall of Fame catcher, Bill Dickey, who was teaching the younger Yogi Berra how to play the position, encourages us to pass down our wisdom to others.
- “I knew the record would stand until it was broken.” While congratulating the Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Bench on breaking his record for home runs by a catcher, this one reminds us that records are made to be broken.
- “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” We often complain that people and things aren’t the way they’re “supposed to be”; but maybe the way things are IS the way it’s supposed to be…at least for now.
- “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” People often get frustrated and discouraged when comparing themselves to others. But perhaps the only people we should be comparing ourselves to is ourselves. As Jeff Schwartzman the head of Learning & Development of Liquidnet (and my teaching partner at NYU) always says: “Measure yourself against your own yardstick.” It’s better to be the best YOU you can be, rather than a second-rate someone else.
- “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” Very simply, without a vision, a direction, a plan, and a goal, you probably won’t end up where you want to be.
- “It gets late early out there.” Referring to the difficult sun conditions in left field at Yankee Stadium, this one reminds us of how quickly time often passes us by.
- “Little things are big.” This one has so many possible meanings including the fact that a lot of time we focus on the big picture while losing sight of the details, and we often underestimate and undervalue the many smaller-sized and less-recognized contributions that various individuals make to a team’s or organization’s success.
- “Ninety percent of this game is half-mental.” So often we focus on the technical skills necessary to do a job, but forget about how important the mental/emotional/human aspect is.
- “You can’t hit and think at the same time.” A lot of times – when we’re delivering a presentation, interviewing, doing a task for which we’ve been trained, or swinging a baseball bat – our self-consciousness gets in the way and we strike out. We second-guess ourselves, lose our confidence, stumble and fall. But when we’re well-prepared, confident, “in the zone,” and in a state of “unconscious competence,” we dramatically increase our chances for success.
- “We made too many wrong mistakes.” Making mistakes is normal; but we need to make the “right” ones, learn from them, and not repeat them.
- “What time is it? You mean now?” While Yogi was on a plane and didn’t know what time zone he was currently in when he was asked this, to me it’s a humorous reminder for us to try to be “in the moment.”
- “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” So often, especially in this digital age, we may end up following the crowd and jumping on the latest bandwagon. But maybe, sometimes, it might be better to just sit this one out.
- “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Life is filled with choices and decisions – some minor and trivial, others future-determining and life-changing. As poet Robert Frost put it in his classic, The Road Not Taken, making choices is, ultimately, what life is all about. While we may sometimes decide to follow the crowd (see #14 above) or the path laid out for us by others, at other times we need to make our own choices, follow our own path, and take “the road less traveled”…the one which will make “all the difference.”
- “Four. I don’t think I can eat eight” Yogi’s response when asked by a waitress whether he wanted his pizza cut into eight slices or four slices. Shows us that with some decisions, it’s just how you slice it.
- “I really didn’t say everything I said. Then again, I might have said ’em, but you never know.” This one speaks for itself.
To those of us who grew up with him having been around all our lives (especially if you were a Yankees fan growing up in New York!), Yogi’s passing last week really felt like losing a family member (in many ways he always reminded me of my Grandpa Sam — same height and build, as well being an incredibly kind, warm, and genuinely friendly and generous man).
But even though he’s gone to that big ballpark in the sky, his baseball records, his Yogiisms, and his smile – and his ability to make us smile simply by thinking of him – will continue to live on.
All it takes is hearing one Yogiism, and it’s like déjà vu all over again.