Immigration

The Secret Meaning of Yogi Berra's Life

The baseball great was a businessman who busted his ass and embodied his immigrant parents' American Dream.

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Baseball great and the malapropism mullah Yogi Berra has died at the age of 90. He was arguably the greatest catcher in the sport (sorry Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza fans) and despite his clownish persona was a team leader who played on 13 World Series teams and was a 15-time All Star and a three-time MVP. He might be the only manager to be fired each time he led his teams improbably to the World Series (an aging, injury-addled Yankees in '64 and the "You Gotta Believe!" Mets in '73).

He is of course best known now for "Yogisms," or funny, gnomic statements such as "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded" and "it ain't over 'til it's over." When asked where he wanted to be buried when he died, he supposedly told his wife, "I don't know, surprise me." 

To me, what's most interesting about Berra—and possibly to the non-sports fans among Reason readers—is his life as a businessman and as the son of Italian immigrants. 

From a 2012 profile of him:

"I can't tell you how many times people told me they would go to Yogi's racquetball club in Fairfield, N.J., and he would be there handing out towels to guests," said Dave Kaplan, director of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.

That image in a nutshell sums up the business career and ideals of Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra.  Although he is best known for his celebrated career spent behind the plate for the New York Yankees from the late 1940's until the early 1960s, Berra was also a successful businessman thanks to qualities that were instilled in him by his parents.

If you grew up in the New York area anytime between the 1950s and the 1990s, you also probably associated Berra with Yoo-Hoo, the chocolate drink that he hawked relentlessly. If you were born anytime after 1960, Berra was an anachronism, a throwback from a different era.

More on his business ethics:

"His story really is a great American success story," Kaplan said. "He was the son of immigrants. His father worked in a brickyard, but he developed his values of hard work and discipline through his family."

The importance of integrity and hard work became guiding principles not only throughout Berra's baseball career, but in his business career as well.

More here.

Imagine that: Immigrants come to America and have kids in whom they instill work ethic. That used to be the story we told about immigrants as country, at least when we weren't vilifying them as polluting the gene pool and stealing jobs from deserving Americans.

The immigrants haven't changed, of course. They overwhelmingly still come to provide a better life for themselves and their kids. Even when undocumented and hence "illegal," they almost always live honorable lives on the straight and narrow and add to the country's wealth and possibilities. They continue to define the American experience in important ways, both by betting on a future in a country built upon immigration and by facing toxic attitudes from natives.

Well, as Yogi used to say, "The future ain't what it used to be."

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  1. I thought Yogi was already dead.

    1. And yet, Abe Vagoda lives on…

      1. So does Lou Reed…

        1. that performance of solsbury hill he did right before he died (if he actually did) is amazing

        2. For the record, Abe lives on, but Lou…only in our hearts.

    2. “I thought Yogi was already dead.”

      Perhaps you were thinking of Snake Plissken.

      1. Well, they both escaped from New York, so there’s that.

        1. Nice.

  2. Ya know, no matter what the message, it’s still pretty distasteful to use someone’s coffin as a soapbox.

    1. Hold this URL for the next time there is (correct) criticism of a shooting incident seeing someone climb on a coffin?

    2. What, you mean the secret meaning of Yogi Berra’s life is not “MOAR MESSICANS!”? What about the pot and ass-sex?

    3. Amen, Dark Lord.

  3. everyone knows Yogi Berra came to America to give birth to anchor babies

    1. Hey, when you come to a fork in the road, you take it.

      1. You tensile thief!

  4. The immigrants haven’t changed, of course.

    Of course! Everything is exactly the same as when large numbers of Italians and other Europeans immigrated in 1909!

    1. Because Eyetalian families are just like peaceful hardworking single male Syrians who seek out the countries with the greatest welfare benefits. Right?

      1. The thing about comparing the great European immigration waves from Central, Eastern and Western Europe is there was no welfare state.

        To me, this is a huge difference on how immigrants assimilate.

        Today, immigrants have access to all sorts of aid.

      2. i don’t think it’s the change in ethnicity that’s important, it’s the change in incentives. when america was a place you could work hard and get ahead, people who wanted to do that wanted to come here. now it’s a place if you complain loudly enough you get free shit, so people who wanna do THAT come here. im, personally, not surprised at all

  5. I came for an ass busting and was only greeted with a drying towel

  6. Roy Campanella, Mickey Cochrane and Gary Carter are in the conversation too for great catchers!

    But Berra was unique indeed. What a personality and outstanding catcher from what I read.

    1. And here I just assumed he was trolling the Carlton Fisk fans. Fisk tearing into Sanders after the no-hustle to first on an easy-out pop-up is a classic.

  7. gnomic statements such as “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” and “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

    The second statement expresses the gnomic aspect; however, the first does not.

    Stay in your own discipline, Gillespie.

    1. Well, I guess it’s over.

  8. They overwhelmingly still come to provide a better life for themselves and their kids.

    Come on, Nick. For every winner there must be losers. The sum is always zero.
    Why do you want Americans to be losers?

    1. “this is a static universe. nothing in it changes.” – rose wilder lane (sarcastically)

  9. 90% of the game is half mental

  10. “Imagine that: Immigrants come to America and have kids in whom they instill work ethic. That used to be the story we told about immigrants as country, at least when we weren’t vilifying them as polluting the gene pool and stealing jobs from deserving Americans.

    The immigrants haven’t changed, of course. They overwhelmingly still come to provide a better life for themselves and their kids. Even when undocumented and hence “illegal,” they almost always live honorable lives on the straight and narrow and add to the country’s wealth and possibilities. They continue to define the American experience in important ways, both by betting on a future in a country built upon immigration and by facing toxic attitudes from natives.”

    The attitudes among natives about them “polluting the gene pool and stealing jobs” is a lot less toxic now than it was when Yogi Berra’s parents came to this country. If immigrants still face hostility, I suspect a lot of it is because of social programs that didn’t exist when Berra’s parents hit these shores.

    I suspect that the more people are forced to pay for each other, the pickier they get about whom they’re paying for. Surely, when American taxpayers are forced to pay for everyone else’s healthcare, etc., it must make them less tolerant of poor immigrants than they would be otherwise.

  11. “Arguably” the greatest because Yankee fans will argue anything. Bench was better, but at least it would be a good argument. I love the 1950 – 28HR, 12 SO stat line.

    1. Gillespie is an Open Borders Ideologue just like Tarrabok. No amount of evidence is going to dissuade them,

  12. The twitter link to this refers to Yogi as an “anchor baby,” yet I don’t see any mention in the article that his parents were here illegally. Once again, Reason fails to contemplate that the word “illegal” actually means something.

  13. Good night sweet prince

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