Yogi and Joey

Humble Yogi and Joltin’ Joe 
were baseball’s odd couple, 
a study in contrasts
of talent and temperament
and legacies beyond the game.
 
To his fans, The Yankee Clipper
was a man and player without fault,
a model of style and power at bat,
a supremely confident outfielder
whose speed and instincts
turned the most difficult chances
into routine outs.
 
Meanwhile, behind the plate,
Yogi was down in the squat,
calling signals, masterminding
the curves and twists of a game 
more complex than it appeared,
and earning cagey Casey’s praise
as his most complete player.
 
Off the field, Joe trusted no one,
let his admirers pick up the check,
and kept his Fifties film goddess
under lock and key to save her
from Hollywood and herself,
but only if she played by the rules
of his game—his way or else.
.
Off the field, modest Yogi
was a sought-after celebrity
for his opinions about anything
life or baseball had to offer, 
expressing himself in ways
that left you wondering
if he knew what he was saying 
or if you ever would.
 
The verbal fun of Yogisms
gave the unassuming catcher
a reputation for amusing wordplay
and dizzying logic that defined him
as much as his 10 World Series titles
and 15 All-Stare appearances.
.
The mystery of baseball was no mystery
to the catcher who defined the game as  
“90 per cent mental; the other half is physical.”
The lopsided equation made perfect sense  
to those of us who played mental games
to outsmart pitchers and get on base.
If you couldn’t guess the pitch that was coming
and what to do with it, you had a problem,
or as the master said,
“If you don’t know where you are going,
you will wind up somewhere else.”
 
I took those words to heart 
in the field as well, once chasing
a long-distance fly that I managed
to lose in the glare of the summer sun
and sudden gust of of Frisco bay wind
and whatever else I could offer
for a valid excuse of going one way
while the ball went somewhere else,
leaving me without direction.
 
Judgmental Joe would have given me a look
of disapproval more terrible than words.
Mr. Berra would have made allowance 
for a youngster’s error and given me
a way to redeem myself for the lapse:
“Hit from both sides of the plate 
before the pitcher realizes you’re amphibious,”
I can hear him saying.
 
As always, Yogi was in the ball game.
 
Author’s Note — A wannabe outfielder in his youth on the windswept playing fields of San Francisco, Lachtman now devotes his time to cheering his hometown Giants and heckling the opposition with choice terms learned in his playing days or borrowed from Mike Krukow. His baseball writing for Soundings include “The Future of Baseball,” What Baseball Means to Me,” “Ruth Calls Time” and “Three Fans of the Game.”

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