I Had to Get Up to Answer the Phone Anyway

Yogi Berra? Desi Arnaz? Carl Brandt? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following anecdote is told about baseball great Yogi Berra. He received a telephone call very early in the morning, and the caller apologetically said, “I hope I didn’t wake you.” Yogi replied:

Nah, I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.

Is this an authentic Yogiism?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Yogi did deliver this quip. He included a version in his 1998 collection “The Yogi Book”, and the story was attached to his name in newspapers by 1958.

Yet, the joke can be traced further back in time, and the earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a syndicated Hollywood gossip column in September 1942. The humorous line was reportedly spoken by the musician and actor Desi Arnaz who was one of the stars of the popular television comedy program “I Love Lucy”. The use of “ayem” instead of “A.M.” in the following was a stylistic quirk of the columnist: 1

Pat O’Brien is chuckling about an early ayem phone call to Desi Arnaz. Noticing Desi’s voice sounded dull, Pat asked: “Did I get you out of bed?” “Not at all,” mumbled Arnaz, in a voice drugged by sleep, “I had to get up to answer the telephone anyway.”

In October 1942 the joke was printed in “The Calgary Herald” of Alberta, Canada. The caller and callee were unidentified, and the time period was shifted from early in the morning to late at night: 2

Then there is the story about the man who was awakened at 4 a.m. by the ringing of his telephone.
“Sorry to trouble you at this time of night, old man …” began the voice at the other end of the wire.
“‘sall right.” interrupted the other. “I had to get up to answer the telephone, anyway.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In December 1942 a version of the comical tale appeared in the mass-circulation “Reader’s Digest”: 3

In a gay and carefree mood, a man telephoned a friend at two o’clock in the morning. “I do hope I haven’t disturbed you,” he said cheerily.
“Oh, no,” the friend replied, “that’s quite all right. I had to get up to answer the telephone anyway.” — Contributed by Carl Brandt

In February 1943 the quip reportedly appeared in the trade magazine “Variety” where a comic stated that it elicited the best audience response: 4

Today’s favorite gag is what Ken Murray reports to Variety as his No. 1 laugh, to wit: A drunk makes a phone call in the small hours of the morning and asks, “Is this Joe Sanborn?” “No, this Is Bob Clifford,” answered the man on the other end. “Sorry I awakened you,” said the drunk, “Oh, that’s all right,” explained Clifford. “I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.”

In June 1943 a bulletin from the Hoosier Folklore Society based in Indiana printed a collection of jokes under the uncomplimentary title “‘Little Moron’ Stories”. An extended version of the anecdote was included: 5

The little moron got up in the middle of the night to answer the telephone. “Is this one one one one?” says the voice. “No, this is eleven eleven.” “You’re sure it isn’t one one one one?” “No, this is eleven eleven.” “Well, wrong number. Sorry to have got you up in the middle of the night.” “That’s all right, mister. I had to get up to answer the telephone anyway.”

In 1958 a Connecticut newspaper described a telephone call between Jackie Farrell and Yogi Berra who were both part of the New York Yankees baseball organization: 6

Farrell tried all day to reach him and finally made contact near midnight. “Did I bother you,” Farrell asked guiltily.
“Nah,” Yogi replied. “I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.”

In 1960 the popular baseball raconteur Joe Garagiola published “Baseball is a Funny Game”, and he included the same story of Farrell and Berra: 7

Yogi Berra is very funny when he gets rolling, but I think the best Yogi stories are the ones told about him. Jackie Farrell, who represents the Yankees on the banquet trail, tells about the time he had to telephone Yogi real early one morning. “Yogi, did I get you out of bed?” Jackie asked. “No,” said Yogi, “I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.”

In 1998 “The Yogi Book” was published by Berra to present a collection of authentic Yogiisms. He included a version of the anecdote though the precise year was not specified. The caller was Max Nicholas who was head of Yankee public relations, and the sleepy reply from Yogi was: 8

Nah, I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.

In conclusion, QI believes this line was probably used by Yogi Berra, but the joke was already in circulation before it was connected to Yogi. The humorous reply was credited to Desi Arnaz in a newspaper column in 1942 and that is currently the first citation located by QI.

(In Memoriam: For my brother Stephen.)

Notes:

  1. 1942 September 4, State-Times (State Times Advocate), Jimmie Fidler in Hollywood, Quote Page 8-B, Column 3, (GNB Page 20), Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1942 October 14, The Calgary Herald, Prairie Wool by Wilf Bennett, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Google News Archive)
  3. 1942 December, Reader’s Digest, Volume 41, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 80, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1943 February 9, Toledo Blade, Pull Up a Chair: Taft Only President Buried in Arlington by Neal O’Hara, Section: Peach, Quote Page 2, Toledo, Ohio. (Google News Archive)
  5. 1943 June, Hoosier Folklore Bulletin, Volume 2, Number 1, ‘Little Moron’ Stories by Ernest W. Baughman, Start Page 17, Quote Page 18, Published by Hoosier Folklore Society. (JSTOR) link
  6. 1958 January 28, Meriden Journal Sportin’ Life by Al Goldstein (Journal Sports Editor), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Meriden, Connecticut. (Google News Archive)
  7. 1960, Baseball is a Funny Game by Joe Garagiola, Quote Page 185 and 186, J. P. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified on paper)
  8. 1998, The Yogi Book: I really didn’t say everything I said! by Yogi Berra, Page 85, Workman Publishing, New York. (Verified on paper)