A Legend, a Cartoon Figure, and the Equinox
In 1956 the only perfect game ever in baseball’s World Series ended with the catcher jumping into the pitcher’s arms. The moment became iconic but not as iconic as some of the catcher’s sayings. One cannot talk about Lawrence Peter Berra, better known as Yogi< without first acknowledging his baseball ability. Yogi Berra was not just a legend on the field in his nineteen years of consecutively playing for the New York Yankees (still me favorite team because of Mr. Berra) and considered one of the greatest catcher’s ever to have played the game, he became a legend off the field.
A “yogi” is someone who practices the eastern spirituality and exercise known as yoga. Regardless of how you define yoga, whether it is a religion, a spirituality, or a philosophy, I think we might be able to agree that above all, yoga is a discipline. Those who practice it and teach it are often referred to as a yogi. Lawrence Berra and a few of his ball-playing friends went to a movie one night and Berra made a comment about the yogi. From that night on, his teammates gave him the nickname “Yogi” and it remained his entire life.
Often proclaiming “I didn’t really say everything I said”, Yogi Berra quickly became famous for his words as well as his catches. Berra was born in St. Louis, Missouri and lived on the same block as his childhood friends, another baseball legend Joe Garagiola. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and later served aboard a navy vessel supporting the D-Day invasion. After World War II ended, he played minor league baseball and worked his way to the big leagues. Playing on a team with other legends such as Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra led to the in runs batted in for seven consecutive years. His philosophy of life was illustrated as he explained when asked about his swinging at bad pitches, “If I can hit it, it’s a good pitch.”
Berra also coached the team he played on and once when asked about a season that wasn’t going so great, Yogi Berra replied: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Yesterday, at the age of ninety years full, Yogi Berra passed away in his sleep. Once someone approached Yogi and told him he looked cool. Berra responded: “Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.” To many, his lack of a formal education was reflected in his speech patterns and the often misplaced participles. He one expressed concern about having the sun in his eyes playing a “night” game in California, “night game” meaning a starting time for 7 P.M. on the east coast but 4 P.M. in California by explaining “It gets late early out there.”
Like the yogi from which his nickname originated, Yogi Berra could also teach us a thing or two about living. “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting, I just blame the bat and if it keeps up I change bats. After all, if I know it’s not my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?” All too often we spend far too much time getting mad at ourselves for things beyond our control. And sometimes, we waste time being mad at ourselves when we really should spend that time making better decisions.
Today many will not only mourn the passing of the great Yogi Berra, so popular that the cartoon figure Yogi was named after him, but also the passing of a season. AS I write this, the autumnal equinox was reached. It is one of two times in which the earth tilts neither towards nor away from the sun. In Japan this day is called “Higan”, meaning “other shore”. The Buddhist’s “Higan” is a time to remember and pay homage to ancestors. Graves are visited and cleaned and sutras are recited. The Chinese Moon Festival will celebrate the coming harvest and for Christians, Michaelmas will celebrate having a “strong will”.
For others like my dog, this day is a promise of cooler weather, a change in the seasons which my puppy welcomes. For all of us, though, baseball fans, spiritualists, theologians, followers, and perhaps those who will attempt yoga today, the day is a new beginning.
“You better cut that pizza into four pieces because I’m not that hungry enough for six pieces.” Yogi Berra’s famous quote may seem funny but it offers us some good advice about living today. We need to realize that life is life but we get to choose how we live it and we need to choose wisely. Don’t take on more that you can successfully accomplish. Consider what you can do and then give it your best effort. You can make a difference and change the world and it can start today. After all, “it ain’t over till it’s over” and who’s to say what “over” really is?