All-Star games and Yogi

Published 7:23 pm Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Last night was Major League Baseball’s 2010 All-Star game. I might see an inning or two, but it’s just not the same as it was a long time ago. There was the time when the only thing that could keep me from seeing the All-Star game was work and, sometimes, not even that.

It must have been around 1963 when I came down with that terrible three-hour stomach ache. The baseball All-Star game would have been on its traditional Tuesday but in the afternoon and not at night. Showcase games like the All-Star and World Series were played in the daylight back in the old days. There was none of this having to sit up until midnight to see who might win the game.

Unfortunately, in July of 1963, we would have been right in the middle of harvesting tobacco and nothing, not even a All-Star game with Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and all sorts of baseball heroes would get in the way of “gathering” tobacco.

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We came home for a quick lunch, one of those tomato sandwich lunches followed by a nap on the front porch where the breeze might offer some relief to the heat of the day. The All-Star game would have been scheduled for about one o’clock and shown on the black-and-white television at home.

The only excuse for getting out of work was sickness. I was able to get through the morning and just happened to know that the All-Star game would be telecast that afternoon. It was also coincidental, I’m sure, that around 12:45 I began to get a little ache in the stomach.

Since I had not been sick that morning or any other morning that summer, a sudden sickness on the afternoon of the All-Star game called for a little acting. I’m sure you remember that Sidney Poitier won the Academy Award as the best actor in motion pictures that year, but that’s only because the cameras weren’t rolling at the Roberts’ house.

I thought I had pulled a big one as Daddy and Keith headed back to the field to join the crew. Meanwhile, I struggled to pull myself to the easy chair after I had switched on the TV and put the channel on WALB and NBC. Joe Garagiola and Vin Scully were warming up.

The star of the game was Willie Mays and the National League won 5-3. Miraculously, I recovered from my illness after the ninth inning and headed back to the tobacco patch. My acting performance had lost its edge, but I tried to look like I was still suffering. I knew that I was not quite as convincing as I should have been when, instead of asking how I felt, my Daddy wanted to know who won the game. It seems that I had not fooled anyone.

Baseball continued to be a great game for me and one of my favorite players was Lawrence Peter Berra, also known as Yogi.  Lawdie, as he was known by his mother, received the nickname, Yogi, when his friends said he reminded them of a Hindu holy man that they had seen in a movie. They said that because of the way he sat with his arms and legs crossed as he waited to bat.

For all of his baseball prowess, good enough to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Yogi was known more famously for his malapropisms, a fancy word that simply means words used in a ludicrous or inappropriate manner.

For instance, a player who hits from both sides of the plate is called a switch-hitter. Yogi described a switch-hitter in this quote: “He hits from both sides of the plate—He’s amphibious.” For the record, an amphibious vehicle is able to operate on land or on the sea.

Yogi knew that he got words wrong lots of times and he even disputed all of the sayings attributed to him. He said, “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.”

He also said, “I never said all the things they say I said.”

I feel like that AFLAC duck after hearing Yogi speak in the commercial. He left the barbershop quacking and shaking his head.

He was naturally a funny person, and I don’t think he really understood all that he was saying. He quit school in the eighth grade or otherwise he might have known that Napoleon had never stayed at a famous Washington, D.C., hotel.

He said, “Even Napoleon had his Watergate.” Of course he meant Waterloo.

Here’s a few more.

“I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”

“It was impossible to get a conversation going. Everyone was talking too much.”

Speaking of a restaurant one time he said, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Yogi was a winner in many ways, but knew what it meant to lose.

One time he said, “We made too many wrong mistakes.” Plus, “You wouldn’t have won if we had beaten you.”

I like this one: “You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

When Yogi retired as one of the most popular Yankees of all time, he said, “I’m a lucky guy and I’m happy to be with the Yankees. I want to thank everyone for making this night necessary.” One of his most popular mis-sayings was the one that we hear quite often, “I ain’t over till it’s over.”

One day Yogi was bumped by someone carrying a big grandfather clock.

Yogi wisecracked, “Why can’t you wear a watch like everyone else?”

He said “when you come to the fork in the road, take it,” and “I knew I was going to take the wrong train so I left early.”

Finally, we make fun of Yogi and one might think he’s a buffoon and needs all the help he can get. Think again. Another master of malapropisms, Casey Stengel, said this about him. “They say he [Yogi] is funny. Well he has a lovely wife and family, a beautiful home, money in the bank, and plays golf with millionaires. What’s funny about that?”

Yogi Berra. He was a baseball player when it was fun to watch baseball.