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Don C. Brunell: Much-needed dose of Yogi Berra’s wit and wisdom

With today’s tension and rancor, we need a dose of Yogi Berra’s wit and wisdom to put things into perspective. Let’s start with “You can observe a lot by just watching,” because seeing what is happening now is very disconcerting.

We need less sarcasm and to alleviate the vilification of one another that we constantly witness in the news and on social media. To quote Yogi: “It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”

Yogi’s humorous way of sizing up a situation would ease tensions. There will always be opposing views and heated debate, which is healthy as long as people don’t personalize differences and devalue one another. According to Yogi: “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

Yogi Berra was a New York Yankee Baseball Hall of Fame player who is one of our nation’s most quoted philosophers. He was the son of immigrant parents, raised in a St. Louis neighborhood, and worked as a waiter during the off-season to support his family.

Berra, who only stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall and and weighed 185 pounds, was a baseball giant. He was the Yankees’ catcher from 1946-62, playing in 14 World Series, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 – but you would never know it listening to him.

Berra was considerate and self-effacing. He didn’t have a gaggle of handlers working overtime to find ways to get him publicity. Yogi never sought the spotlight, it always found him.

He maintained a sense of humor even in the most difficult times. During the D-Day Invasion in 1944, Navy Seaman Second Class Berra was on a small rocket boat shelling Nazi positions on Normandy. He learned to handle twin .50-caliber machine guns in heavy seas. “You ever try shooting a machine gun on a 36-footer? You could shoot yourself.”

He was not a wealthy man even though his net worth was $5 million when he died. The Yankees signed Berra for $500 ($7,489 in current dollars) and when he retired his salary was $45,000. He wasn’t in baseball for the money.

Yogi loved the game, his teammates, and baseball fans. In turn, they loved him. At his retirement ceremony, a gracious Yogi Berra said: “I’m a lucky guy and I’m happy to be with the Yankees. And I want to thank everyone for making this night necessary.”

He treated his opponents with dignity. When asked about Los Angeles Dodger pitching legend Sandy Koufax, Yogi added: “I can see how he (Sandy Koufax) won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.” Koufax also is in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

He never forgot those who helped him along the way. He credited Bill Dickey, the longtime Yankee catcher, as the coach who taught him the finer points of catching. Yogi replaced Dickey in the lineup in 1946.

While Berra played and managed over a half-century ago, his attributes are ones that still make organizations and leaders successful. Today, too many people have a callous zest for fame and merciless zeal for fortune. That is not healthy for our nation or world.

He would caution: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

It is not about winning at any cost. How we play the game is important. Common courtesy, respect and understanding builds bridges. We need to know what it is like to walk in another’s shoes.

As Yogi would conclude: “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, after more than 25 years as its CEO. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.


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