The Maxim Guide to the Endlessly Quotable Yogi Berra

What do the Yankee legend mean when he said what he said? Decoding Berra’s pearls of wisdom. 

Most Americans living today were born a good decade after Yogi Berra ended his playing career. To them, Berra, who died Tuesday evening, wasn’t so much a baseball player as he was a baseball legend, known better for his goofy Yogi-isms than his ability to pull a slider into the right field seats at Yankee Stadium.

The allure of Berra’s most quotable lines lies in their whimsy and often, indecipherability. On the occasion of his death we’ve attemped to decipher 10 of his best pearls, just in case you didn’t get them the first time .

Quote:  “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

What it really means:  When Berra dropped this line, he was referring to a baseball team that was counted out before the end of the season. But it works just as well for anyone feeling discouraged about their standing in life. It’s encouragement and it works. At least until whatever it is you’re talking about is actually over. 

Quote:  “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

What it really means:  You know when a place is so popular that it’s overrun with crowds so you stay away because you’re cool and don’t like all the bandwagoners? That’s what he’s getting at here. 

Quote: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

What it really means: Literally, Berra was telling a friend how to get to his house and the forked road led there regardless of which direction he chose. Figuratively, this quote is much more useful. Take it to mean that when you’re faced with a choice in life, you should just choose something and forge ahead. Don’t dick around.

Quotes:  “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

What it really means: Captain obvious, right? But the key to understanding Berra’s meaning here is realizing that “observe” can mean a lot more than see. It can mean to understand. And “watch” can mean a lot more than look at. It can mean to truly pay attention. Think of it that way and it makes a lot more sense. 

Quote:  “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

What it really means: If you see a thing and then you see it again, it’s déjà vu. If you see it again, it’s deja vu all over again. That’s what Berra’s describing and it’s hard to imagine him stating it any better.

Quote: “It gets late early out here.”

What it really means: If most of Berra’s quips were accidental, this is one of the few that clearly wasn’t. Replace the word “late” with “dark” and the quote makes perfect sense. It’s also entirely unremarkable. With Berra’s spin though, it’s like line from Confucius. 

Quote:  “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”

What it really means: Baseball is mostly mental. The rest is physical. This is about as good a self deprecating line you’ll find from Berra, who’s emphasizing the importance of brains in baseball while mocking his own. Also, he’s providing a pearl of wisdom that’s true about all athletic pursuits. 

Quote: “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

What it really means: You can easily imagine Berra speaking this like and using airquotes around “I said.” His point is clear though, he really didn’t say everything attributed to him.

Quote: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”

What it really means: Berra supposedly spoke this line to player trying to copy a much more accomplished player, telling him if he couldn’t achieve the same results, he shouldn’t model himself after the other guy. It’s a bold endorsement of individualism. Be yourself, Berra is saying, because it’s too hard to be someone else. 

Quote: “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

What it really means: This is some pretty basic econ 101. As time passes, and inflation goes up, you can’t buy as much with the same amount of money any more. More generally though, Berra is speaking here about the impermanence of truth. “Words don’t always mean what they used mean” is probably the Yogi-est Yogi-ism of all. 

Photos by George Silk / Getty images