Yogi Berra? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: While looking through a book of baseball’s greatest quotations I came across this hilarious reply from Yogi Berra to someone who criticized his appearance:
So I’m ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.
Some of the sayings credited to Yogi are bogus, but I hope this one is real. What do you think?
Quote Investigator: There is good evidence starting in 1948 that Yogi did make this quip. The book “Yankee Doodles” by the sports writer Milton Gross contained a collection of profiles of New York Yankee baseball players. The chapter on Yogi contained the following: 1
Yogi may be many things to many people, but he’s not a dope. An amiable youngster, Yogi feels that when his teammates stop kidding him half the pleasure of life will be gone. When they remind him that he’s ugly, Yogi has a pat answer.
“It don’t matter if you’re ugly in this racket. All you have to do is hit the ball and I never saw anybody hit one with his face.”
In 1949 the popular magazine “Collier’s Weekly” published a profile of the ballplayer titled: “Yankee Yogi: I’m Human, Ain’t I?” by the journalist Gordon Manning. Yogi was quoted presenting a very similar quip with the word “anybody” replaced by “nobody”: 2
But Yogi, an amiable guy of twenty-four and the absolute favorite of everybody in the clubhouse, brushes off those who rib him about his ugliness.
“It don’t matter if you’re ugly in this racket,” he says. “All you gotta do is hit the ball, and I never saw nobody hit one with his face.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In January 1952 Yogi had been with the New York Yankees for only five full seasons, but his growing fame due to his baseball skills and his humorous pronouncements were reflected in the title “Yogi Becomes Legend” which was given to an Associated Press newspaper article. Another close variant of the saying was given in the article: 3
“It don’t matter what they say. All you have to do in this racket is to hit the ball. I never saw anybody hit one with his face.”
Berra takes it good naturedly and goes back to his comic books. And don’t let his reading habits fool you either. He’s a clever guy with a buck and is rated one of the best card players in the majors.
In 1953 the sportswriter Grantland Rice printed a concise single sentence version of the quotation: 4
No other ballplayer ever got the riding Yogi got from rival teams. It was terrific. Yogi merely grinned. “You don’t hit with your face,” he said.
In 1955 The American Mercury periodical published an anecdote describing the origin of the retort: 5
Yogi Berra’s famous “You don’t hit with your face,” retort came about when Birdie Tebbetts, one of the leading bench jockies today, hollered at Yogi: “Hey, Berra, how does your wife like living in a tree?”
Yogi heard that crack all season. Some players even swung from dugout roofs by one hand, scratching themselves and bellowing like Tarzan. It took Yogi all season to think up his bon mot.
In 1998 Yogi Berra published a short volume called “The Yogi Book” with a series of quotations that Berra indicated were accurately ascribed to him. He printed the following instance of the quote: 6
In the dugout, someone said to me, “Yogi, you’re ugly,” and I said: “So? I don’t hit with my face.” Razzing and ribbing takes place all the time in baseball.
In 2001 Yogi published “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!”, and he noted that some of his detractors called him “The Ape”. Yogi believed that properly handling these insults was a test of his character: 7
The more vicious stuff kept up pretty good my first few years. But I kept my feelings to myself. You just absorb it. Some of the stuff bothered me, but I really didn’t mind. Basically I didn’t want the jokes and insults to ruin my opportunity to play. …
After a while, when I was asked about my looks, my stock answer was, “It doesn’t matter if you’re ugly in this racket. All you have to do is hit the ball, and I never saw anyone hit with his face.”
In conclusion, based on accounts in books and newspapers starting in 1948 Yogi did create and use this clever riposte although the exact wording varied. Yogi himself provided further corroboration in his books that he delivered the line on multiple occasions.
(In Memoriam: Many thanks to my brother Stephen for pointing out the value of researching Yogi-isms.)
- 1948, Yankee Doodles by Milton Gross, Chapter: Beauty’s Only Skin Deep, Start Page 109, Quote Page 115, House of Kent Publishing Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1949 August 13, Collier’s Weekly, Yankee Yogi: “I’m Human, Ain’t I?” by Gordon Manning, Start Page 21, Quote Page 21, The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz) ↩
- 1952 January 27, The Telegraph-Herald, Yogi Becomes Legend by Murray Rose, Page 19, Column 6, Dubuque, Iowa. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1953 March 19, Reading Eagle, The Sportlight by Grantland Rice, Page 35, Column 1, Reading, Pennsylvania. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1955 October, The American Mercury, Baseball’s Barbers by Raymond Schuessler, Start Page 25, Quote Page 25, The American Mercury, Inc., New York. (Unz) ↩
- 1998, “The Yogi Book: I really didn’t say everything I said!” by Yogi Berra, Page 112, Workman Publishing, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2002 (Copyright 2001), “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!” by Yogi Berra with Dave Kaplan, Quote Page 112, Hyperion Paperback Edition, New York. (Amazon Look Inside; Google Books preview) ↩