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It's Over But it Ain't

One of the most famous sayings attributed to the late, great New York Yankees' catcher, Yogi Berra, was: "It ain't over 'til it's over." Alas, today we learned that for Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, the consummate ballplayer, it is indeed over. Yogi passed away late on Tuesday, 22 September 2015, at the age of 90, and on the 69th anniversary to the day of his big-league debut.

But with Yogi, it ain't over. It can never be over. The legacy he left to this world is one that will keep on going for generations to come.

He was one of the greatest catchers in the history of the sport, a three-time American League MVP, 18-time All Star, and a remarkably and aggressively talented ballplayer who was essential to every winning Yankee ballclub, which earned him 10 World Series rings. He went on to coach and manage both the New York Yankees and their crosstown rivals, the New York Mets to League pennants, even though neither team won a World Series under his leadership. But those losses did nothing to tarnish his magnificent career. He was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1972.

There is nothing I can say about this gentle man that hasn't been said already by the people he knew and all of those whose lives were deeply touched by his greatness. I was not a part of the generation that had the privilege to see this man play the game he so loved, but I was part of the generation that saw him emerge as one of the most beloved human beings ever to grace that game. There wasn't a single Old-Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium that didn't bring the Yankee faithful to their feet every time he was introduced. There he was, wearing his iconic Number 8 uniform, a number shared by Yankee catcher Bill Dickey, a number retired in honor of both men on 22 July 1988 by the Yankees, and made an eternal part of Monument Park at The Stadium.

I did have a chance to see how infectious and inspiring his very presence was to the Yankees and their fans. After a long estrangement from Yankee team owner George Steinbrenner, Yogi returned to Yankee Stadium on the 18th of July 1999 for a tribute, billed as "Yogi Berra Day." I will never forget that day. We listened to the proceedings on the car radio, traveling to a mini-vacation on the Jersey Shore. Pitcher Don Larsen, who threw a perfect game to catcher Berra--the only perfect game ever thrown in the World Series--threw out the first pitch to Yogi, and to the delight of the fans.

As if touched by the greatness of their presence, David Cone took to the mound, and, almost eerily, threw a total of 88 pitches to his batterymate, catcher Joe Girardi. Eighty-eight pitches of perfection, for not a single ballplayer on the opposing team (the Montreal Expos) ever reached first base. 27 batters up. 27 batters down. On the day of Yogi's triumphant return to The House that Ruth Built, Berra became a Yankee Good Luck Charm.

I will miss him, but in the power of memory, his sincerity, his integrity, and his unique ability to make us smile, will live on.

Postscript [4 October 2015]: I am reminded by readers that I cited Yogi for his wisdom on the tacit dimensions of knowledge, in my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism:

[Michael] Polanyi develops this distinction between "subsidiary awareness" and "focal awareness" by using the example of the pianist who cannot shift "his attention from the piece he is playing" to the movement of each of "his fingers while playing it," without messing up his performance. . . . This distinction was also recognized by that great philosopher of baseball, Yogi Berra, who, when he was told to "think" about what he was doing at the plate, struck out. Berra observed: "You can't hit and think at the same time." [177 n. 69]