Reviewed by Bill Lyon
With his stocky, runty torso and his boardinghouse-reach arms and his stubby, ungainly legs, he looked like he had been assembled from leftover parts, or as one writer of the day put it: "A body only an anthropologist could love."
But Lawrence Peter Berra played the most difficult and demanding position in all of sports, and played it so uncommonly well that there are people who consider him the greatest at his position of all time, and make a compelling, statistic-buttressed argument in his behalf.
One of those people is Allen Barra - one vowel removed from, and no relation to, his subject - a prolific and decorated writer of books, columns, and magazine articles, a baseball maven, and an unabashed champion of Berra, who is one of those people instantly recognized by one name. In this case:
The Grand Master of the Malaprop.
Surely the most quoted athlete of all time, cited so frequently that it requires some diligent digging to unearth exactly what he said and what he might have said. Or as Yogi himself might observe: "If I didn't say it, I should have."
Barra on Berra, neatly timed for Opening Day, makes for an impressive tome. It is an exhaustively researched, meticulously prepared, and lovingly presented biography of a man whom the author proclaims to be "America's most popular former athlete." (I would counter with Muhammad Ali, but that's a matter of opinion.)
It will require more willpower than I possess not to sneak ahead and turn immediately to Appendix B, Page 396, for a sampling of Yogiisms. Herewith, indulge:
When you come to the fork in the road, take it.
You know, a nickel isn't worth a dime any more. (To the economist Milton Friedman.)
What paper do you write for? (Upon being introduced to Ernest Hemingway.)
Thank you for making this day necessary. (To the fans, on Yogi Berra Day.)