“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Yogi Berra died recently at the age of 90. Even those who were never baseball fans, who never admired his career as a catcher for the Yankees, memorized his stats, emulated his style, collected his player card, and followed his career as a manager have probably paid homage to the man by repeating some of his simple, funny sayings. Or perhaps unwittingly grew to love him by laughing at a classic childhood cartoon — Yogi Bear (though Hanna-Barbera denied the bumbling bear was modeled after the Hall of Famer). Like Yogi “smarter than your average” Bear, Berra was by all accounts a lovable, likable, genuine man who inspired many in baseball.
With his passing goes a surprisingly impactful voice in American culture.
Wit and Wisdom in Sports
Athletics and sports provide so many memorable quotations. Berra has been credited with many phrases that seemingly contradict themselves (and basic logic), often referred to as malapropisms. Some he owned up to; others, he denied uttering, and some, well, he didn’t actually claim but never really disowned. In its comprehensive coverage of Berra’s death, The New York Times published a great list of some of these well-known and beloved quotes (“Behind the Yogi-isms: Those Said and Unsaid”).
Not everything revolved around sports. Personally, I like this one:
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
I think I’ve even said it on a trail run, where the path becomes a “Y” and both choices, though different routes, return to meet again at another spot. My husband’s personal favorite, which he uses all the time in reference to Austin’s bustling restaurant scene?
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Sure, it doesn’t make any actual sense (it’s crowded because so many people are there) but you know exactly what Berra meant (“We don’t go there anymore because so many people are there”). It’s funny and apt, rolled into one sweet bon mot…though Berra may not have actually said it first.
Which brings me to “It ain’t over till it’s over.” In the NYT coverage, this is credited to Berra in his comments about the Mets’ chances in the ’73 pennant race. I know I’ve used this line many a time. At first thought, Berra’s stating the obvious. But his circuitous logic captures all the possibilities of what might happen until the end is reached.
The article then goes on to report that Berra was often incorrectly credited with a similar comment: “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
The origins of this are a little murky, but Texas and sports are in the thick of things. Some accounts have San Antonio Express-News sports writer Dan Cook first using the phrase in 1978 as part of his televised basketball coverage. Others attribute it to Ralph Carpenter, the Texas Tech information director who, in 1976, was quoted as using the phrase regarding a dramatically tied A&M/Texas Tech game. Though the “fat lady” reference sometimes refers to opera or church and may actually be much older, it was sports coverage that made it common lexicon.
Which leads me to “Dandy Don” Meredith. Meredith, who grew up in Mount Vernon and went to school at SMU, played for the Dallas Cowboys in the golden years of America’s Team (he was the quarterback for that game-of-the-ages 1967 “Ice Bowl” against Green Bay). After leaving the NFL, he became a color commentator for ABC’s Monday Night Football, and it was there that fans all across America heard him warble in his true Texas drawl,
“Turn out the lights; the party’s over.”
Meredith didn’t come up with these words. They were created by yet another Texan, legendary singer/songwriter Willie Nelson, who penned the lyrics in 1967. But it was the quick witted Meredith who so aptly applied the country western song to sports. You knew all hope was lost for your team in that Monday night game when Dandy Don started in. Or, if your team was winning, the celebration could officially begin.
In honor of Yogi Berra and his impact on baseball and language, here’s Dandy Don, providing a tribute to all the clever, lasting voices of sport and their impact on American culture: