I never met a bad writer who didn't quote Yogi Berra frequently. This is particularly true of newspaper people, many of whom love baseball, principally because it makes them feel that its 1936 and everything is just fine in the newspaper business. "It ain't over 'til it's over," the lazy editorial writer quotes, describing the local election cycle, the high school ball team's shot at the title, an effort to bring a plastic factory to the town's industrial park, a complicated bowel movement or an effort to raise money for a new city swimming pool.
Poor Yogi, dead at 90. He was a hell of a catcher, too. He made a living playing a sport and later made his living being a quotable goof and that, I think, is a fine life to live, since it involves minimal preparation, a small amount of work and a large amount of money.
Still, imagine if all of Berra's mangled quotes had been said by a black ball player of the same generation. The quotes would have been stupid, not "cute." We still largely ignore similarly mangled syntax from slum-raised football players, although we sometimes find bad English endearing if it's spoken by a white southern athlete who says things like "happier than a itchy pig in a fresh mud hole." Delightful!
The best athletes speak most clearly through their bodies. Very few of us can understand that language, no matter how passionate we are about our sport or "our" team. The polished athlete speaking at a testimonial dinner is not speaking the language he or she speaks best, but is only making cheap jokes and recycling words of the "always give 110 percent" variety.
When the athlete's muscles go, he or she must live on a pension, sign balls at autograph shows, pitch products on television, start a Jesus ministry, play golf, go to prison, get addicted to drugs and (hopefully) live to become one of those washed-up, ex-athlete, ex-junkie speakers high schools bring in to bore the hell out of kids. It's what there is left when you can't do it anymore.
And so they lose the ability to speak the language they spoke best. They can still understand it but they can't answer back anymore.
Yogi Berra stayed famous long after his time by not speaking very well, but surely he still understood that other language — the language of speed and sight and muscle, the one you can only speak when you are young and blessed with a good body and superior coordination.
So maybe we should not think of Yogi Berra as a fount of such ideas as "when you come to a fork in the road, take it," the kind of verbal mishmash that when quoted always seemed just on the edge of being degrading.
Think of him young and strong, behind home plate, roaring in the language you speak without words. Yogi was a poet in that tongue.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, "Marc Dion: Volume I," a collection of his best 2014 columns, is available on Nook and Kindle