Like many of his most famous sayings, the Yogi Berra gem, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," didn't seem to make much sense – at least until you brushed it off, peered closely and absorbed the insight.
For Berra, always taking the fork in the road represented the map to becoming an icon of baseball and the popular culture. The Yankees legend, who died Tuesday at age 90, forged multiple paths as a World Series king and prince-of-paradox humorist and philosopher – earning him spots in the record books and in the hearts of fans across generations.
The pudgy son of St. Louis didn't look like much of an athlete, and his penchant for bad-ball hitting hardly made him the epitome of baseball grace, especially compared to teammates like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. But Berra won three Most Valuable Player awards on his way earning a place in the Hall of Fame as one of his sport’s greatest catchers.
He became known by a far larger crowd beyond Yankee Stadium as a Yoo-hoo pitchman who spouted what some would call malapropisms. But, to paraphrase his cartoon semi-namesake, Yogi Bear, Yogi Berra was smarter than the average human.
The “Yogi-isms” attributed to Berra, often transported by sportswriters from the locker rooms to the masses, brimmed with homespun wisdom and a counterintuitive, folksy logic.
Berra’s epigram, "Nobody goes there nowadays, it's too crowded,” intentionally or otherwise, nailed the downward tipping point for trendy places.
“You can observe a lot by just watching” spoke to the importance of simply paying attention – especially on the ballfield, Berra’s home-away-from-home for more than half his life.
While Berra’s math was off, his observation that "90 percent of baseball is mental and the other half is physical" offered an incisive truth about a game that's played more between the ears than the foul lines.
Berra proved himself among the most intelligent baseball lifers, calling the pitches of hurlers during the Bronx Bombers' 1940s and 1950s glory years, when winning was déjà vu all over again. He later became the only manager to lead the Mets and Yankees to World Series berths.
Perhaps his most famous saying – "It ain't over till it's over" – remains a Fall Classic classic. It's the siren call of the annual October scramble for greatness uttered by the man who played more World Series games than anyone and led the 1973 "Ya-Gotta-Believe" Mets from the basement to baseball's biggest stage.
Beyond the National Pastime, Berra's rallying cry represents the hope that carries us through challenges when time is short and the odds and stakes are high.
The earthly stay of Yogi Berra, a man who did it – said it – his way is over. But his contributions to baseball, the language and the spirit live on, coursing past every fork in the road.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.