Yogi Berra legacy of wordplay: How did he get his nickname?

Yogi Berra played in more World Series baseball games than any other major leaguer, but Berra's witty wordplay may be his most enduring legacy.

(AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine, File)
Yogi Berra, manager of the New York Mets, watching his team work during a game in Philadelphia on Sept. 21, 1973. Berra, the Yankees Hall of Fame catcher has died. He was 90.

Yogi Berra, winner of an unmatched 10 World Series championships with the New York Yankees and author of many amusing “Yogi-isms,” died Tuesday at the age of 90. He is survived by three sons he had with wife Carmen, who died in 2014.

“While we mourn the loss of our father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, we know he is at peace with Mom,” Mr. Berra’s family said in a statement released by the Yogi Berra Museum. “We celebrate his remarkable life, and are thankful he meant so much to so many. He will truly be missed.”

Berra is best known for dizzying malapropisms, such as: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” “When you come to a fork in the road…take it,” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Eight of Berra’s “Yogi-isms” are included in “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations,” the longest-lived American reference work of widely known quotations. “When I’m sittin’ down to dinner with the family, stuff just pops out. And they’ll say, ‘Dad, you just said another one.’ And I don’t even know what the heck I said,” Berra insisted.

Born Lawrence Peter Berra, the son of Italian immigrants, got his nickname from future teammate Jack Maguire while growing up in St. Louis. “Some of us went to a movie with a yogi in it and afterwards Jack began calling me Yogi. It stuck.” Berra told the Saturday Evening Post.

Rejected from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1943, Berra did not have a promising start to his career. After a Yankees scout recognized his potential and signed him, but his breakthrough season came in 1948 when he hit .315 with 14 homers. Then in 1949, he achieved a .989 fielding percentage and completed the World Series without any errors.

Berra was a catcher for the New York Yankees for 18 seasons, and then later coached or managed the Yankees, New York Mets, and Houston Astros. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972, Berra played in more World Series games than any other major leaguer and was a three-time American League Most Valuable Player.

Berra died on Sept. 22, the same date as his big league debut 69 years earlier. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of a Yankees legend and American hero,” the Yankees posted on Twitter. 

And while Berra holds World Series records for the most hits (71) and games (75), his words might leave the greatest impression.

Berra’s wife Carmen once asked him where he wanted to be buried, and he replied: “I don’t know. Why don’t you surprise me?”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this article. 

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