If I Could Just Make Them Up On the Spot, I’d Be Famous

Yogi Berra? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: One of the cleverest jokes credited to Yogi Berra is meta-logical. Apparently, some people were following Yogi around and expecting him to utter one of his famous Yogi-isms. Finally, in exasperation he said:

If I could just make ‘em up on the spot, I’d be famous.

This response is great because it is a Yogi-ism. He did make it up on the spot, and he is famous for creating exactly this type of expression. But did this really happen?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Yogi Berra did coin this Yogi-ism. In 2001 Yogi published the volume “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!” which was subtitled “Inspiration and Wisdom From One of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes”. He told of an episode that occurred at The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center which is on the campus of Montclair State University adjacent to the Yogi Berra Stadium: 1

People always expect me to be funny. I guess that’s the popular image. “Make up a Yogi-ism,” they’ll say. I can’t. I don’t think I ever said anything intentionally funny in my life. Sometimes the quotes just happen—I just don’t know when I’ll say them.

Once a couple visiting our museum met me and asked if I could say a Yogi-ism. I told them I don’t make them up on the spot. I said if I could, I’d be famous.

The same story was told in the pages of Sport Illustrated magazine in 2011. This version presented the words of Yogi as a direct quotation: 2

Once a man and woman came up to him at the museum and asked him to invent a Yogi-ism, on the spot. He told them it doesn’t work that way. He does not just divine these phrases. He said, “If I could just make ‘em up on the spot, I’d be famous.” The couple laughed happily. Yogi Berra did not know what was so funny.

In conclusion, based on the testimony of Yogi himself he did make this statement of self-referential wisdom.  Also, QI believes that it is unlikely that these words were said by someone else and then reassigned to Yogi.

(In Memoriam: Many thanks to my brother Stephen for pointing out the value of researching Yogi-isms.)

(Also, thanks to John for supplying the issue of Sports Illustrated.)

Notes:

  1. 2002 (Copyright 2001), “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!” by Yogi Berra with Dave Kaplan, Quote Page 138, Hyperion Paperback Edition, New York. (Amazon Look Inside)
  2. 2011 July 04, Sports Illustrated, Where Are They Now?: Yogi Berra Will Be a Living Legend Even After He’s Gone by Joe Posnanski, (sportsillustrated.cnn.com; SI Vault; Accessed November 13, 2012)