You Can’t Think and Hit at the Same Time

Yogi Berra? Bucky Harris? Eddie Froelich? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The New York Times magazine recently highlighted a quotation from a Hall of Fame baseball player [NYYB]:

“How can you think and hit at the same time?” Yogi Berra once said, which like many of the quotes attributed to the former Yankees catcher, even the malapropisms, contains an essential truth. You can’t think and hit because there’s not time for both.

Did Yogi really say this, or do people simply believe that he should have said it?

Quote Investigator: The evidence is not completely clear because Yogi himself has made confusing pronouncements about this saying. The earliest citation located by QI is an Associated Press newswire story dated August 1, 1947 [MCYB]:

They tell a story about Larry “Yogi” Berra, the New York Yankees’ new No. 1 catcher and his Manager Bucky Harris. Yogi is known as a bad ball hitter and Bucky decided to do something about it.

“Think when you get up there,” he told Berra. “Make the pitcher come in with the ball. Don’t be too eager. Make him get it over. Think. Think.”

Berra went to the plate and took 3 called strikes. He walked to the dugout and sat down.

“How can anybody think and hit at the same time,” he mumbled.

A series of similar stories appeared in newspapers in the late 1940s and 1950s. But when Yogi Berra published an autobiography in 1961 he made a very different claim [YBEF]:

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the stories that are true and the ones that are made up. For instance, Bucky Harris is supposed to have told me, when he was our manager in 1947, that I would never be as good a hitter as I should be unless I stopped swinging at bad balls and made the pitcher come in with it. “You’ve got to think when you’re up there,” they say he told me. And after I struck out the next time, I’m supposed to have come back to the dugout complaining, “How the hell can you think and hit at the same time?” But I never said it.

But that is not the last word from Yogi. In 1998 he authored a compact entertaining book called “The Yogi Book” that collected authentic Yogi-isms and combined them with his brief commentary. Berra claimed that the saying was his, but when he spoke it he was not playing for the Yankees [YBYB]:

“You can’t think and hit at the same time.”

If you ask me, this is true with any sport. I said it in 1946 when I was with the Newark Bears playing Triple A. My manager told me not to swing at balls out of the strike zone. He said, “Yogi, next time you’re up, think about what you’re doing.” I struck out in three pitches!

Berra did not mention this episode in the 1961 autobiography when he denied the variant of the tale with Bucky Harris. However, it is possible that some incident in 1946 was the seed for multiple altered retellings in newspapers in 1947 and 1948.

Here are some additional selected citations in chronological order.

In August 1947 Yogi was credited with the saying in an Associated Press news story as shown previously. In September 1947 the New York Times sports reporter Arthur Daley told a version of the anecdote [YBNY]:

This 22-year-old vest-pocket size Hercules has true baseball instincts. He doesn’t even have to think. There was, for instance, the time Harris sent him in as a pinch-hitter with instructions to think while he was at bat. “Think, think, think,” urged Bucky. Berra fanned ingloriously and returned to the bench muttering to himself, “How can a guy think and hit at the same time?” That’s the colorful Yogi for you.

In June of 1948 a former Yankee trainer told another version of the anecdote. In this spirited tale Yogi was so aggravated that he went beyond “muttering to himself.” He broke his bat on the bat rack [CSYB]:

“That reminds me,” said Red Sox trainer Eddie Froelich, formerly with the Yankees. … “He [Yogi] was swinging at anything. Finally, Bucky Harris told him one day: ‘Wait until the ball comes over the plate. Take a base on balls once in a while. Start thinking up there.’

“Well, the very next time Berra went to bat he stood there and took three strikes right through the middle,” Eddie said. “He came storming back to the bench and broke his bat on the bat rack. ‘What happened?’ somebody asked him. ‘What happened!’ Yogi yelled. ‘How can you expect a guy to think and hit at the same time!'”

In October 1948 the Washington Post printed this version of the story [YBWP]:

Harris even attempted to improve Berra’s hitting by telling Yogi not to let the pitchers outguess him. “Think while you’re up there,” Harris pleaded. Whereupon Berra took a third strike and came back to the bench moaning, “How ya gonna think and hit at the same time?”

In succeeding years the story was repeated with occasional modifications. But this discussion will skip to 1985 when Ed Fitzgerald, the co-author of the 1961 Yogi book, wrote a memoir. Fitzgerald was a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and publishing executive, e.g., former president of the Book-of-the-Month Club. He interviewed Berra extensively during the writing of the 1961 book [EFNI]:

Sometimes it isn’t easy to find out if a story is true or not, even when you go to the horse’s mouth. Yogi said he didn’t remember it, but he probably did say back there in ’47 that Bill Dickey was learning him all his experience. But he doubts that he ever told Bucky Harris, his first Yankee manager, what he’s supposed to have said when the manager told him to stop swinging at so many bad pitches. “You have to think up there,” Bucky told him. “Aah,” the storybook Berra said, “how can you think and hit at the same time?”

In 1998 Yogi published the “Yogi Book” and stated that he did deploy the quotation in 1946 when he was playing with the Newark Bears before joining the Yankees. The details were given earlier.

In 2009 a biography of Yogi by Allen Barra was published, and the author reported that Yogi did make the remark. The reasoning behind the quotation was given by Yogi [YBAB]:

As he phrased it in a Q&A session at the 1998 Montclair Booktober Fest, “You do your thinking before you get up to bat. We used to spend a lot of time before the games talking about certain pitchers, what they threw, and what was the best way to hit them in certain situations. We did a lot or talking and a lot of thinking about hitting. We just didn’t stand there thinking when we were up to bat.”

In conclusion, it is plausible to QI that Yogi Berra did say a version of this quotation, but the evidence is confusing. If he did say it the precise wording is probably lost in time. Thanks for your question.

(Many thanks to Steve for raising this question and motivating this exploration.)

[NYYB] 2011 June 26, New York Times, For Derek Jeter, on His 37th Birthday by Michael Sokolove, Page MM28, Section: Sunday Magazine, New York. (Published online 2011 June 23; Accessed online at New York Times website nytimes.com on 2011 June 27)

[MCYB] 1947 August 1, Mason City Globe-Gazette, Prize Yarns in the World of Baseball by Jack Hand, [Associated Press], Page 9, Column 8, Mason City, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)

[YBEF] 1961, Yogi: The Autobiography of a Professional Baseball Player by Yogi Berra and Ed Fitzgerald, Page 12-13, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

[YBYB] 1998, “The Yogi book: I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!” by Yogi Berra, Page 13, Workman Publishing, New York. (Verified on paper)

[YBNY] 1947 September 30, New York Times, Sports of the Times: Waiting for the World Series by Arthur Daley, Page 30, New York. (ProQuest)

[CSYB] 1948 June 12, Christian Science Monitor, In The Dugout with Rumill, Page 16, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

[YBWP] 1948 October 30, Washington Post, This Morning With Shirley Povich, Page 13, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

[EFNI] 1985, A Nickel an Inch: A Memoir by Ed Fitzgerald, Page 100, Atheneum, New York. (Verified on paper)

[YBAB] 2009, Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra, Page xxxv and 65, W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)