On September 23rd this year, Yogi Berra died at 90 years old. As the New York Times describes him he was “…one of baseball’s greatest catchers and characters, who as a player was a mainstay of 10 Yankees championship teams and as a manager led both the Yankees and the Mets to the World Series — but who may be more widely known as an ungainly but lovable cultural figure, inspiring a cartoon character and issuing a seemingly limitless supply of unwittingly witty epigrams…”
This month we asked the Chefs: What is your favorite Yogi Berra quote and why?
Joe Esposito: Inasmuch as the Kitchen is a venue for scholarly communications, we should acknowledge that not everything attributed to Lawrence “Yogi” Berra was in fact uttered by him. This makes one of his most famous “Yogisms”–”I never said most of the things I said”–iconic. We know he never said that “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings,” apparently a reference to Wagner (picture Yogi, sitting in the eighth row of a performance of The Ring, flipping through comic books as he awaits the fat lady), but he may have said that “it ain’t over until it’s over,” which is sensible enough.
Yogi, in other words, was not just a historical personage but also a mythic figure on whom we project so many of our own wishes and wisecracks. This is a role he shared with many others. My favorite example of the genre are the witticisms attributed to Samuel Goldwyn. Could he really have said that “anybody who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined”? Closer to home in the publishing industry, though not nearly as well known any more, are the zingers attributed to Dick Snyder, the former CEO of Simon & Schuster. I would participate in meetings with Snyder and a few weeks later hear versions of what he allegedly had said, all hyped up for dramatic intensity and a dose of (ironic?) cruelty. Indeed, many people, who never even met the man, imitated his bizarre booming baritone. Comments attributed to him seemed like they had dropped from the lips of Attila or Ariel Sharon (did Sharon really say that “when the lion lies down with the lamb, I want to be the lion”?). Out of respect for the delicate sensibilities of the men who read this blog, I will forbear quoting any of Snyder’s more famous and deliciously malicious remarks.
Nor are scholarly communications unsusceptible to misattribution born of an urge to mythologize some of its participants. Heather Joseph could not possibly have said that “we have to begin acting in ways that acknowledge that Open Access is the norm.” She couldn’t have said that, could she? I mean, really!
Yogi may not have been the smartest guy in the world, but he was one helluva baseball player, and about baseball he could be truly wise–and thus my favorite Yogism: “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” And he may have actually have said it.
Michael Clarke: My favorite: “I really didn’t say everything I said.” It shows how a great brand can create a center of gravity — things just stick to it. It is also the most meta of the koan-like Berra quotes.
Angela Cochran: My favorite Yogi Berra quote is, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Words to live by right there. When faced with opportunities or challenges — that “fork in the road” — the easiest things is to turn back. We can become paralyzed by decision.
The fear of change, the unknown, is the greatest personal barrier we face. Some people are born with the adventurous spirit to just eenie-meenie-minee-mo the whole thing. Take what comes and deal with the consequences later. They aren’t making the decision which way to go down that road. They are leaving it to chance. I am not one of those people. I am more of the “explore all the options” kind of person. I want to know what to expect down that road and I want to know what the consequences are of choosing road A over roads B and C. Then there are the people that just turn back. The decision is too difficult. They don’t apply for the open position because they are afraid of not getting it and getting it simultaneously. One thing is sure to happen if you turn back — nothing about your situation will change. Not for the better, not for the worse.
This is where Yogi comes in. When you reach that fork, take it. Whichever path you choose pushes you to something new. Could you fail? Yup, but you will learn something from it. Most of us have good instincts about this and those that don’t need a good network of support — people to go over the pros and cons with. Whichever road you decide to take, make the decision to take one in front of you. Do not turn back down the road. Take the fork.
Robert Harington: This is a strange question for someone who grew up in London without a whisper of baseball culture. I definitely knew Yogi Bear, but it was only recently that I realized that Yogi Bear was inspired by Yogi Berra — duh! Yogi Berra himself sued Hanna-Barbera for defamation and ended up withdrawing his suit in face of what seem like ridiculous claims of coincidence. As a spotty English kid I definitely knew and used phrases like “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, or “Deja vu all over again”.
As I read over the long list of Yogi Berra’s quotes, fresh to the profundity of his truisms, the one that resonates most with me is “You can observe a lot just by watching”. This is how I approach the world. It is how I learned to play tennis. It is how I work. It is so obvious and yet requires an active will. There is both mental and physical exercise implied in active watching. As little as I have clearly learned in life it has been through observing through watching.
David Smith: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
They are everywhere in life, and most times, you won’t have the information you need to be absolutely sure which path to take. Just going down a path will take you to places you couldn’t imagine, give experiences (both good and bad) that will serve you well going forward; and if you observe a lot by watching… You’ll figure out whether your initial choice was correct or not, and what to do if it wasn’t.
Todd Carpenter: “It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”
Yogi had his hand on the pulse of the internet, even though he said this long before the internet became the public forum for discussion. Sadly, it seems more and more that we are all talking, but we aren’t conversing. Conversation isn’t a monologue, it’s (at the very least) a dialogue. It requires both participants to be willing to listen and engage. A critical component of a conversation is hearing what the other person (or people) are saying and being open to the ideas being shared. It is not simply pouring forth your own thoughts, opinions and perspectives. Unfortunately in so many respects, it is a precept many observe in its breach and especially we collectively haven’t yet learned how this applies with regard to digital communications. So much of the web has become an echo chamber of self-reinforcing beliefs. And people often take the medium and its relative anonymity and lack of face-to-face engagement as a license to spew forth vitriol that one wouldn’t encounter on the street or in-person interactions. Beyond the lack of civility, serious intellectual engagement is often absent. One hopes that scholarly communications will remain the one area of the web where meaningful discussions can take place.
Rick Anderson: I hesitate to explain why my favorite Berra-ism is my favorite, because I feel like doing so is kind of like dissecting a butterfly: you come away from the experience understanding the structure of the butterfly, but you’ve also destroyed it.
That said, here’s my favorite: “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
This quote is my favorite because I read it two ways, both of which I think are insightful. First, and more superficially: even if the world were objectively perfect (whatever the phrase “objectively perfect” might mean), I don’t think most of us would believe it was; we would find some way to find fault with it. Second, and more elegantly: if the world were perfect, what would we do all day? How do you occupy yourself in a perfect world? Wouldn’t we find it boring? (Maybe not; I guess a perfect world would be one that provided somehow for our engagement without requiring us to solve problems.) Anyway, I’m a sucker for profundity disguised as ingenuousness, all the more so if (as Berra himself claimed) the ingenuousness is real and the profundity accidental.
Jill O’Neill: It is perhaps unfortunate that my favorite Yogi Berra quote is one that has been authoritatively traced to another source. No matter. The sense behind the statement, We have deep depth, still resonates, whether the source was Hall of Famer Yogi Berra of the NY Yankees or Hall of Famer Earl Weaver of the Baltimore Orioles.
The story goes that either Berra or Weaver was asked by a reporter about the reasoning behind the size of his professional team’s roster. The off-the-cuff justification given was “We have deep depth”, meaning that the team was very fortunate to be blessed with a great deal of talent across all the various positions. Berra borrowed the statement to use as a chapter heading in his 2001 book, When You Come to a Fork In The Road, Take It. The chapter had to do with the strength of team chemistry. It seems that there was no designated “team captain” during the years Berra played for and managed the Yankees. All players essentially held the same rank and Berra thought that this was a good thing for the team as a whole. The story that Berra tells in his book is that, in the wake of a bad season in 1948, there were whispers throughout the league that the Yankees were nothing but a one-man team. If powerhouse Joe DiMaggio couldn’t play for the Yankees due to injury, then the team wouldn’t play up to expectations. Without DiMaggio, they were ineffective. At some point during the preseason, another player — not a big name — called a team meeting and insisted that the Yankees couldn’t use DiMaggio’s injury as an excuse. One way or another, they were going to have to go out and show the world that the Yankees consisted of more than just a single talented player. Berra notes that during the subsequent 1949 season, “We were a patchwork team, but everybody contributed.” He attributed that year’s organizational success to the awareness that every player’s contribution made a difference, even when those individual players were not blessed with star talent.
On the one hand, it’s a view that frequently is just give lip service. On the other, it’s a bit of wisdom that everyone probably has to absorb during the course of a working career. Sometimes a contribution goes unrecognized or undervalued by a committee chair. Sometimes one person on a corporate team is granted the credit or bonus for what was actually the work of a larger group of far less visible staff. But wouldn’t it be nice if, given the current emphasis on collaborative working environments and teams, the various stakeholders working in scholarly publishing could get to the point where every player could say “We have deep depth” about their own team while still generously according the same recognition to the rest of the League?
Alice Meadows: Having lived in the States for the last 15 years I’m somewhat embarrassed to confess that I had to google Yogi Berra in order to answer this month’s question. I knew he was a baseball player who recently passed away, and I knew that he was renowned for his sayings. But I couldn’t have told you what he actually said! Having now spent some time perusing brainyquote.com I’m a little better informed – and therefore realize what a challenge we’ve been set, choosing just one quote. So I’m cheating and choosing two, which resonate with me both personally and professionally.
The first is “if you don’t know where you’re going you might wind up somewhere else”, which perfectly sums up my life to date. I’ve never had much of an idea of where I wanted to end up in my job or in my home life — I just knew I wanted to do interesting things with people I liked (who wouldn’t!?). While there are drawbacks to this approach for sure, it also leaves you open to opportunity in ways that people who have a very clear idea of what they want to do aren’t, usually. I like to think Yogi would approve of my lack of planning! The second quote is: “You can observe a lot by watching”. Obvious but true — how often do we fail to understand what’s really going on because we don’t take the time to actually look? Tuning into non-verbal clues about how people are really feeling about a situation — whether at work or at home — is an important life skill, and one which takes a lifetime to master; I’m still working on it…
Judy Luther: My favorite Yogi Berra quote is “The future ain’t what it used to be.” According to The Yogi Book (referenced on the quote investigator website), Yogi was simply acknowledging that times are different – not necessarily better or worse. It was Yogi’s friend, Jack Maguire, who gave Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra his infamous nickname after seeing a movie on India and thinking that his buddy resembled a yogi sitting with his arms and legs crossed. Obviously Yogi’s many memorable sayings reinforced that image.
For me this particular quote brings to mind two thoughts that make it especially relevant today. As technology continues to support a rapid rate of innovation, I feel as though we are living in a period of discontinuity where the future did not evolve from the past. The issues driving change in a global publishing environment look very different than they did 20 years ago.
When David Houle, the futurist, spoke at Digital Book World a few years’ ago, I recall him saying that we can’t solve this century’s problems with last century’s solutions. There have been similar phrases saying that a different approach is required if we are produce a different result. Within the last 5-7 years there have been a plethora of start-ups, many of which are led by the next generation, each one inspired to fix a problem they encountered as researchers or students. Their fresh perspective and courage to create a new solution prompt me to think about what could be. The future will indeed be a different world.
David Crotty: First, though Berra is best known in popular culture for his wit, wisdom and malapropisms, I think it only fair to acknowledge his athletic prowess as well. Despite having a body that looked, according to Larry MacPhail, “like the bottom man on an unemployed acrobatic team,” Berra was one of the best players of his era and one of the best catchers of all time. He was a 3 time MVP, an All Star 18 times and appeared as a player or manager in an astonishing 21 World Series (and won 13 of them).
While his quote that, “You can observe a lot by watching,” became a standard opener for talks during my days in biological imaging as the field moved from still images of fixed tissue to continuous imaging of living tissues, I have chosen instead a more obscure Yogi-ism. Many of us who chose to go into editing were guided by a love of language, and the surreal wordplay of a Yogi Berra quote, whether real or attributed, is hard to resist. The best Yogi Berra stories read like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie. This one has permanently lodged itself in my brain, as told in Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf’s Baseball Anecdotes (a highly recommended volume of short baseball tales ranging from King Kelly to Bill Buckner):
…in the late ’80s still a coach with the Houston…One day he climbed into the whirlpool in the Astros’ clubhouse and yelped in mock pain. “What’s the matter?” the trainer asked. “Is the water too hot?”
“I don’t know,” Berra replied. “How hot is it supposed to be?”
I love theory and I love practice. I spend most of my time moving back and forth in the space between the two, attempting to reconcile them and create meaningful and productive paths forward. Without any hesitation I can tell you Yogi was 100% correct!
Both theory and practice have tremendous value. Theory makes us think beyond what is – to what could be. It helps us break away from routine, to reevaluate where we are based on new information, capabilities, and circumstances. It offers that “20,000 foot” view of what something might look like and perhaps even some ideas for how to get there. But, that is where theory stops. No one implements theory in its raw form or even the way someone else did – it must be adapted before it can be adopted! To make anything work in practice you must take into account all of the specific and unique circumstances of the current situation and environment. In practice there is a huge difference between theory and practice!
Now it’s your turn! What is your favorite Yogi Berra quote and why? Do tell!
We tip our hat to John Sack of HighWire Press for this month’s question. Thanks, John! Perhaps next month we will tackle your intended question: How is scholarly publishing like delivering takeout meals faster?