I Never Said Most of the Things I Said: The Wisdom of Yogi Berra

September 28, 2015

YogiBerraLast week, baseball lost a legend.  Yogi Berra participated in 18 All-Star Games and 14 World Series (winning 10 of them, the most in baseball history).  He was a three-time MVP (most ever for a catcher), had a lifetime .285 batting average, hit 358 home runs, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.  He also managed the Yankees and Mets for eight years.  His impact on the ball diamond was measurable and distinguished.  But his impact on our language – and to some degree, on how we view the world – is immeasurable…

Some of Yogi’s quotes were silly: you better cut the pizza into four pieces, because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”  And some just didn’t make much sense: Pair up in threes.”  But many were really quite profound, and can be translated into wisdom for better leadership, better performance, better living.  Even if many of the quotes attributed to Yogi weren’t actually his own (which is why he once said I never said most of the things I said), the impact of his comments will leave a legacy far beyond his performance on the field.

So for a more light-hearted column this month, and in the spirit of reflection on the wisdom of one of baseball’s best players – and certainly best spokesmen – I give you a dozen of my favorite Yogiisms:

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  Translation: make a decision and move forward.

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”  Translation: for future success, planning is critical.

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”  Translation (and to borrow a quote from Rocky Chapin, CEO of PEN member Benedictine Health System): “is today the tomorrow you envisioned yesterday?”  In other words, be flexible, be agile.  And continue to adjust and adapt to variables to reach your future goals.

“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”  Translation: perfection is impossible.  Never stop improving.

“90 percent of it is half mental.”  Translation: to be successful in sports or in life, you have to show up prepared.

“If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.”  Translation: be honest; be authentic.  As leaders and individuals, if you don’t know the answer to something, admit it and go find the answer.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t make something up!

“We made too many wrong mistakes.”  Translation: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a “right mistake,” but either way: there’s wisdom in learning from our failures.

“If I didn’t make it in baseball, I won’t have made it workin’.  I didn’t like to work.”  Translation: to coin another phrase: love what you do and you won’t have to work a day of your life.

“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”  Translation: be humble; be modest; be unpretentious.

“You can observe a lot by just watching.”  Translation: it’s simple advice, but really very true: you can learn a great deal more by listening and observing than by talking.  Many of us would be wiser just by being more observant of our surroundings and more sensitive to others’ needs.

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”  Translation: to communicate, it’s important to listen – and really hear – what others are saying.

Perhaps my personal favorite is this last one, uttered when his 1973 Mets were 9.5 games out of first place in July (but eventually overtook the Cubs to win the division very late in the season): “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Translation: in sports, in work, in life: never give up.

What comments do you have regarding the wisdom of Yogi Berra – what are your favorite Yogiisms?  Participate in a discussion on this topic: visit our LinkedIn group to post a comment.

Never stop improving!

Brian S. Lassiter

President, Performance Excellence Network (formerly Minnesota Council for Quality)



Catalyst for Success Since 1987!