Life lessons come from the oddest places, banging a knee, bumping your head, making an error (as we say in Maine, errah) and people like Yogi Berra. One of Yogi’s best – that 18-time “All Star,” 10-time world Series catcher – was “It ain’t over til its over.” He was famous for his “malapropisms.” A few are worth remembering in times that test our temper and worry the staunchest among us.
When you look around these days, what you often see is a lack of dreams not a “field of dreams,” less individuality, initiation, and imagination, more “go along to get along,” head down, join of the crowd.
That is not, of course, what made greats like Yogi Berra – who was a no-excuses son of two Italian immigrants, proud American from birth to death, always stepping up, Navy gunner’s mate in the Normandy landings, won a purple heart that day, shot in the left hand, never looked back.
While he threw right-handed, he batted left-handed, but the old injury never bothered him – risk taken, damage sustained, mission completed, and onward. That was Yogi, focused, no excuses. His name came from a buddy who thought he looked like a yoga instructor, intent, hands and legs crossed waiting to bat.
Always eager to do his part, intent on fulfilling the mission, wanting to be counted, worth being counted on, sad when he lost, happy when he won, everything on his sleeve, funny once done.
Giving directions to a friend – knowing there were two ways – he advised, “When you come to a fork, take it.” That was his basic mantra, go with the flow, make a choice, it will get you there.
On other occasions, he quipped about being in the moment, staying focused, caring about friends. “You can observe a lot watching,” he intoned. About baseball, “ninety percent of the game is half mental.” About friends, “always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
If his wit is endearing, his life reminds us of what we forget. You are either in the game or not, part of the next play or not, willing to take risks, swing for the fence, help others – or benched.
Too much of America seems to think you can hit, run, and score from the bench, that stepping up is for others, risks too hard, losing too unpleasant, learning and working as Yogi did beneath them. They think blending is the way to go, letting history roll over them, not making it.
Here is a secret: Yogi was always himself, respectful of history, his elders and hard-working peers, aware success takes years. He was not cowed by others, even Steinbrenner, the owner.
He was a straight-up patriot, no apologies for friends, faith, or country, a sound example for our times, emblematic of his. He was what Americans look like at our best, freewheeling, confident, inventive but humble, all-in. no half measures, worthy of veneration – like his generation.
More than 500 major league baseball players volunteered for World War II. Yogi was just one. Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer, joined the Navy in 1942, became a Marine fighter pilot, later flew combat missions in Korea, confident on any field.
Baseball and war are not perfect metaphors for life or decision-making, but they are not bad. America could use more Yogis right now. His life reminds me of COL Potter’s philosophy, in the old television series on wartime Korea, M.A.S.H. “If you ain’t where you are, you’re no place.”
In other words, make today count, give up on nothing, turn into the wind, into the pitch, ride the gale. Dare to BE, GIVE and SERVE where you are. Good things will come – best that can – from that conviction, personally and nationally, if we keep swinging, our eye on the ball. “It’ ain’t over ‘til its over,” so use your head. Quoting Yogi, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman2 for AMAC.