Hall of Famer Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees stands in the dugout just prior to the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Philadelphia Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Yogi Berra is famous for his quips on baseball and life. Now, so is Bryce Harper. We ponder the fate of famous quotations by Yogi and other ballplayers, had they been said in the Twitter age.
With that kind of title, this post could go in many different directions. I could be writing about Roy Oswalt pitching for a Texas team last night, but not the one with whom he pitched most of his career. I could be writing about umpire Jerry Layne getting hit in the head by the barrel of a broken bat, just a few years after Tyler Colvin, then with the Cubs, was impaled in the chest by a broken bat while running home from third base. I could be writing about stories describing a "toxic" Red Sox clubhouse, and the ensuing stories about the media getting it wrong just to build a poisonous narrative about
But I'm not writing about any of those things. I'm writing about the quote itself.
"It's like déja vu all over again."
Of course that's just one of many "Yogi-isms", quips from Yankee great Yogi Berra that seem nonsensical but perfectly capture an idea or emotion. Berra supposedly said "It's like deja vu all over again" while watching Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit back-to-back home runs over and over again in the 1960s. Berra said it, someone wrote it down, and then reported the quotation. The quotation was repeated enough, orally and in print, that eventually it became part of our everyday lexicon. We use it in all sorts of contexts now, baseball and otherwise. It's a part of us.
I was thinking about Yogi Berra and his famous quips in the aftermath of Bryce Harper's "That's a clown question, bro." Harper's remark came in response to a reporter's question after the Nationals defeated the Blue Jays 4-2 on June 12 in Toronto. Harper had a big hit in the game. A reporter asked Harper, who's 19, whether he planned to have a celebratory beer, since the legal drinking age in Toronto is 18. Harper, who is Mormon and doesn't drink, looked askance at the reporter and said, "I'm not answering that. That's a clown question, bro."
The give-and-take was captured on video and posted by The Score the next day. You can see the video here, if you haven't already. Within hours, everywhere you turned on the internet, on Twitter and on Facebook, there was "That's a clown question, bro." First we learned about the quotation. Then we commented on the quotation. Then we made jokes about the quotation. Then we used the quotation in all sorts of non-baseball contexts. Dan Steinberg, who writes the D.C. Sports Blog for the Washington Post, recapped the boomerang effect of Harper's response. Less than 48 hours after the Nationals' center fielder uttered the words, they were indelibly woven into our lexicon.
As the Harper dust settles, I got to wondering how things might have turned out if Yogi Berra played in an era of social media. Harper's "That's a clown question, bro" seems perfectly suited for the time. Our time. A time when a comment moves from idea to internet meme faster than Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash. How would we have reacted in real time to "It's like deja vu all over again"? Or to other Yogi-isms like "It's getting late early out there," and "Ninety percent of the game is half mental," and "The game isn't over until it's over"? Would these bits of Yogi wisdom have survived the 24/7 Twitter cycle? If so, in what form?
The same questions can be asked of other ballplayer quotations that became embedded in our consciousness. Quotations that started with baseball, but grew to have meaning in many different contexts. Quotations like Leo Durocher's "Nice guys finish last" and Lefty Gomez's "I'd rather be lucky than good." The same also can be asked of now-famous baseball quotations that we use when watching games or writing about them afterwards, like Casey Stengel's "Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa" (although the "and vice versa" part of the quotation is often left out) and Earl Weaver's "The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals and three-run homers."
And then there are the less-than-famous ballplayer quotations that might have taken the "That's a clown question, bro" route had they been said in another era. Quotations we can find if we search hard enough, but for one reason or another, did not embed themselves in our consciousness. Or if they did at the time, have faded over the years. I recently came across this nugget from Tom Seaver, who remarked after pitching the Mets to victory in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series, "If the Mets can win the World Series, the
There's one more ballplayer quotation I've thought about a lot since the Bryce Harper meme explosion, particularly after learning that Harper has taken steps to trademark the quotation for use on T-shirts by Under Amour, with whom he has an endorsement deal. I've thought about whether the player would have even said the words. And how Twitter would have eaten them up, digested them, and spit them out as puns. I'm picturing the T-shirts and bumper stickers and coffee mugs.
I'm going to give you the quotation. You tell us in the comments what you think would have happened had these words been uttered in 2012 rather than 1978.
Hitting is better than sex.
-- Reggie Jackson