“You Look Nice and Cool.” “Thanks! You Don’t Look So Hot Yourself.”

Yogi Berra? Babe Herman? Department Store Sales Woman? Young Student? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite quotation from Yogi Berra was said when he was introduced to a beautiful model after a baseball game. She complimented him, and his fumbling reply was unintentionally funny:

She said, “You look so nice and cool in that white uniform.”
He said, “Thanks! You don’t look so hot yourself.”

Is this anecdote accurate?

Quote Investigator: This type of comical tale has a long history. In 1934 a newspaper in Illinois printed a version in which the two participants were a “young woman of our village” and a sales woman: 1

It was a hot day. She had gone to a department store office to pay her bill, and, impressed by the crisp, fresh appearance of the girl behind the counter, she had exclaimed, “My, but you look cool.” And the girl had gazed across the counter and replied briskly, “You don’t look so hot yourself.”

In July 1937 a New York newspaper printed a version of the story that featured members of the opposite sex. Once again the tale was presented as a humorous piece of non-fiction: 2

Few stories of the recent heat wave to equal that dug up by Mark Hellinger, who tells about the conversational difficulty of the young man and young woman who had to resort to the old standby, the weather.
“You don’t appear to be minding the heat,” was her gracious lead.
He tried his best to think of a complimentary comeback, but the words did not come. Finally he thought of one.
“Well, you don’t look so hot yourself,” he told her. And then the air grew much cooler.

Eventually, a jocular story of this type was told about a baseball player. Interestingly, the first player who appeared in this anecdote was Babe Herman and not Yogi Berra. An instance featuring Herman was published in 1951, and an instance with Yogi was published in 1956. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In September 1937 a newspaper column in Connecticut presented a compressed version of the joke. The participants were identified simply as “She” and “He”: 3

This is how the trouble started:
She—My, you look nice and cool!
He—Thanks! You don’t look so hot yourself!

In 1947 a reader of a New Orleans, Louisiana newspaper sent in a version of the gag to a column called “Bright Talk”. In this instance the dialog was between a teacher and a student: 4

When Springtime came little Jimmy appeared at school one day all dressed up in a brand new white suit. “My, how nice and cool you look, Jimmy!” remarked the teacher.
Seeking to return the compliment, the child blurted out, “You don’t look so hot yourself, Teacher.”—Mrs. L. E. G., 1828 Franklin avenue.

In 1951 the magazine Baseball Digest printed a version of the story with Babe Herman, a colorful player who later became a coach: 5

Of all the Babe Herman yarns, one of the best about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ new first base coach concerns his conversation with a pretty young lady during spring training. The cocktail hour was at hand and Babe was sartorially elegant in a cream white tropical suit.
“My how cool you look,” the lass cooed.
Herman, as awkward conversationally as he was on the bases, said, “You don’t look so hot yourself.” — Tom Siler in the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

In 1956 the tale was told with Yogi Berra delivering the maladroit compliment/insult. The account was printed in an Oregon newspaper which acknowledged a golf magazine: 6

Golf World astonished with the latest Yogi Berra story—didn’t know the big boy played golf, eh? We didn’t either, but here’s the story: On a golf course Yogi appeared in a new linen suit on a hot day and a player’s wife observed, ‘You certainly look nice and cool.’ Whereupon Yogi replied, ‘Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself!’

In 1959 George R. Tebbetts, a baseball catcher who became an executive vice president with the Milwaukee Braves, delivered a conference speech to a group of newspaper managing editors. Tebbetts told the following tale about his wife Mary and Yogi Berra: 7

One day, after a game, I introduced her to Yogi. She was delighted. She said to him: ‘Mr. Berra, you are everything a baseball player ought to be. And you always look so cool out there in that white uniform.’ And Yogi said, ‘Mrs. Tebbetts, you don’t look so hot yourself.’

In 1963 the “Celebrity Register”, a massive one-volume compendium of profiles and quotations, included another version of the anecdote: 8

When an umpire, admiring Berra’s clothes, said, “You look cool today,” Yogi deadpanned, “You don’t look so hot yourself!”

In 1998 Yogi published “The Yogi Book” and presented his own version of the tale. Yogi stated that he spoke the comical line when he was attending a ceremony during which the mayor of New York City, John Lindsay, gave him the key to the city. Note that Lindsay was mayor from 1966 to 1973. The day of the event was hot and humid: 9

Mayor Lindsay’s wife, Mary, commented on how cool I looked, and I replied: “You don’t look so hot yourself.” I guess I was a little nervous about the speech I had to make.

In conclusion, this joke has a long history that began in 1934 or earlier. There are multiple variants, and the individuals filling the two roles differ over time. It is possible that Yogi Berra spoke the awkward line, but he did not originate it.

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

Notes:

  1. 1934 June 17, Rockford Morning Star, Ye Towne Gossip, Page 8, Column 1, Rockford, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1937 July 28, Evening Recorder, Main Street by H. P. Donlon, That Language of Ours, Page 5, Column 1, Amsterdam, New York. (Old Fulton)
  3. 1937 September 27, Meriden Daily Journal, The Traffic Tower, Page 6, Column 4, Meriden, Connecticut. (Google News Archive)
  4. 1947 April 27, Times-Picayune, Section: The Times-Picayune New Orleans States Magazine, Bright Talk: Cool Clothing, GNB Page 134, Column 3, New Orleans, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1951 April, Baseball Digest, [Freestanding short untitled article], Page 80, Published by Lakeside Publishing Co. (Google Books full view; Accessed July 14, 2011)
  6. 1956 July 6, Oregonian, Greg’s Gossip by L.H. Gregory, This Yogi Berra Story Is in Golf, Section 2, Page 1, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)
  7. 1959 August 14, Seattle Daily Times, The Sporting Thing: A Little Psychology by Georg N. Meyers, Page 14, Column 1, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  8. 1963, Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables, Edited by Cleveland Amory with Earl Blackwell, Profile of Yogi Berra, Page 53, Column 2, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  9. 1998, “The Yogi Book: I really didn’t say everything I said!” by Yogi Berra, Page 54, Workman Publishing, New York. (Verified no paper)