The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the category “Mythology”

What Yogi Berra, (And Others), Never Actually Said

When it comes to famous quotations, Americans seem to love them more than any other people on the planet.  We put them on bumper-stickers, toss them around in political or religious debates, and use them as an excuse to avoid actually having to think too deeply about any particular topic.  If it can be summed up in a phrase or two, so much the better.

Baseball fans, of course, also love famous quotations, such as Satchel Paiges’s “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”  Simply recalling these quotes puts a satisfied smile on our face.

Unfortunately, the truth is many of the quotations we take for granted as having been said by, for example, the Founding Fathers, or old-time ball players, in many instances turn out not to have been said by them at all.   Sometimes, the alleged statements are inaccurate renderings of much less interesting comments.  Other times, they appear to have been simply made up completely out of whole-cloth, or actually belong to someone else.

English: New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra i...

English: New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in a 1956 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra probably has more quotes attributed to him than any other baseball player in history. Yogi was lovable, successful and humble, and he looked kind of funny with big ears and the grin of a six-year old who just tasted his first ice-cream cone.  What’s not to like?

Many of the sayings attributed to Berra, however, are probably apocryphal.  But if a quotation could be attached to the legend of Yogi Berra, it would seem to be that much more funny and interesting.

The same can be said, in a way, to all the alleged quotations attributed to our Founding Fathers over the years.  While these men actually did, of course, pen many significant, historical statements, many other quotations which have been credited to them (especially in recent years), are at best of suspicious origin, and, at worst, are obviously fake.

I have provided a list of several famous quotations allegedly made by famous people (including Yogi Berra) which, it turns out, were probably never penned by the person to whom these lines are attributed.

1)  “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”  - George Washington.  Except here’s what the official, non-partisan website of Mount Vernon and the legacy of George Washington has to say about this quotation:

The quote is frequently misattributed to Washington, particularly in regards to his farewell address of 1796. The origin of the misquote is, perhaps, a mention of a similar statement in a biography of Washington first published in 1835. However, the quote that appeared in the biography has never been proven to have come from Washington.

2)  “Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”  - Yogi Berra.  Unfortunately, Yogi didn’t come up with this one.  The origin of this quote can be traced (at least) as far back as John McNulty writing in the New Yorker magazine, in a story published February 1943, before Yogi was even in the Majors.

English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Sec...

English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”  - Thomas Jefferson.  It appears that this statement was first made (sort of) famous not by Jefferson, but by that other Founding Father…President Gerald R. Ford.  Barry Goldwater has also sometimes been credited with making this statement.

As an aside, I just saw this exact quotation on a bumper sticker in a parking lot today, and it was attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  The interesting thing is I also saw this same quotation on another car in a different parking lot a few weeks ago, but it was attributed to conservative philosopher Edmund Burke.  So, at least in Greenville County, SC, you appear to have your choice of whom to award this statement.

4)  “Its Deja Vu all over again.”  - Yes, Yogi Berra is often credited with this saying, but in a phone interview with journalist William Safire in the late ’80′s, Yogi denied ever having made this statement.  About a decade later, however, Berra did take credit for it after all.  Did he really say it, or did he just come to believe that it would do no harm taking credit for it after all?  A version of this line was also found in a poem called “Thanks to You,” by Jim Prior, which appeared in a Florida newspaper in 1962:

It’s Deja Vu again / Out of the blue again / Truer than true again / Thanks to you.

5)  Most of us are familiar with the following quotation, frequently attributed to Protestant theologian Martin Niemoller:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out for the trade unionists, because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came out for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This quotation has always held strong emotional appeal precisely because it points out the inherent danger of good people remaining silent in the face of great evil.  But was Martin Niemoller really the first to say it, assuming he ever said it at all?

On the floor of the House of Representatives in October, 1968, a slightly different version was entered into the Congressional Record by Henry Reuss, a Congressman from Wisconsin.  His version led off with the Jews, then moved on to Catholics, then unions, then industrialists, and finally the Protestant church.  His version left out the communists and socialists.

Representative Reuss credited these words to a Jewish businessman named Howard Samuels.

A paraphrase of the lines attributed to Father Niemoller was discovered going back to the mid-1950′s, however, and though the thoughts are generally similar, the phraseology isn’t as clearly defined and polished as the version most commonly attributed to him.  It should be pointed out that Niemoller actually did bravely stand up to the Nazis, and did survive a period of time in a Nazi Concentration Camp.

Niemoller himself did later say that his favorite version of this quotation included the communists and the socialists as two of the persecuted groups because it was much closer to being historically accurate than the ones which leave out those two groups in favor of Industrialists and Catholics.

Nevertheless, no written record of Niemoller making the specific statement famously associated with him has ever been located.

6)  “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  -  Yogi Berra.  Berra is on record stating that he’s pretty sure he never said this one.

7)  “The death of one man is a tragedy.  The death of millions is a statistic.”  - Josef Stalin.  The person who actually first wrote those words was the German journalist / satirist Kurt Tucholsky in an essay on French humor in 1932.  He was a left-wing Democrat in Germany during the Weimar Republic.  Later, under Hitler, his books were burned and he was stripped of his German citizenship (though he had already fled to Sweden.)  He died in 1935, before the worst of the Nazi genocidal campaigns and the Second World War commenced.

8)  “Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”  -  Yogi Berra  While that very well be true, Berra didn’t say this.  Instead, the quotation belongs to Rocky Bridges, who played for several Major League baseball teams from 1951 to 1961.

Why does this happen so often?  In many cases, there is a political motivation involved.  If you can attribute a statement which appears to support your side’s political convictions to a Founding Father, for example, you gain implicit credibility in the eyes of an unsuspecting, credulous public.  As for baseball fans, we just like to read cool-sounding stuff.

 

Leaving it all Behind: Joe Wood Has a Beer in Ouray

The meals are generally warm and agreeable in this establishment, the last one down here along the highway before you get to Stony Mountain.  They all know me in here; got my table ’round back near the bandstand where all they ever play is goddamned “Waltzing Matilda” over and over, as if they might just conjure up another Gallipoli simply by doing so.  My reflection sits at the bottom of my beer mug, waiting for me to pull it out.  Once, I was of the inclination to do so, but thought better of it.  We each have to learn to make it on our own in this world.

"Smokey" Joe Wood, Boston AL (baseball)

“Smokey” Joe Wood, Boston AL (baseball) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The shoulder stiffens in the dry, brittle air of winter’s Colorado.  Jesus died at 33, and I ain’t planning on kicking the bucket just yet, and yes, that crown of thorns must’ve been one sonovabitch, but mister, until you’ve awakened at 4:00 a.m. after a hundred curveballs, and twice as many fastballs, well, all I’m sayin’ is, don’t come cryin’ to me about sin and redemption.  We all get squeezed sometimes.

Flaky Lacy over there says she’s seen my picture in a newspaper brought back from the East.  Says she thinks I was famous, playing some game of Ball or something.  Showed me the headline, and the picture of a dark-eyed, serious looking kid of the age when youth sets, then begins to die.  The camera captured the image the instant before the melting began, when first you lose your heater, then your heart.  Finally, they take your name and put it in a magazine.  Might as well be an obituary.

Tried second-base once.  It didn’t take.

I could hit a little.  Batted .366 years after I couldn’t comb my own hair with my right hand.  They say your body compensates for itself so that one part of it grows stronger when another part shuts down.  Well, the wrong part grew stronger, sir.  The memory of the ball just whistling out of my right hand, effortless as a young girl dancing barefoot in summer’s backyard — all lemonade and perfumed air — gets stronger and sharper.  It cuts and slashes leaving nothing but the wound of youth.

Boston ball grounds - 1912 (1st part of panora...

Boston ball grounds – 1912 (1st part of panorama), 9/28/12 (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Maybe I’ll leave this land of the Ute, and head back East after all.  Got a cousin in Connecticut.  Said I could get a job in New Haven teaching pitching.  I could get down to Boston once in a while, I suppose.  Sit with the old men in the bleachers, talking about the way things used to be.  How the young fellers of today don’t know how to play the game the way we once did.  Clean balls now, and everyone hits a homer, drives a car, and owns a radio.

Ran into a man on my way out of here yesterday.  Said he was a reporter.  Asked me to come back in and have one more for the road.  Said to me, “You was Smokey Joe Wood.”  I said, “I guess I still am, but for the part that refers to my right arm.”  He laughed and shook his head.  “Don’t know how you do it,” he pondered.  “Why, whatever do you mean, sir?” I retorted.  He held off for a moment, bottom jaw cranky with doubt.  Foamy beer clung to his lips and chin, leaving him looking like a bearded Greta Garbo.

“You had the world once,” he started.  “You were literally ‘King of the Hill’, and no one could knock you off your perch.”  He stared at me now, in the same way mortals first came to detest the fallen Gods of old when Olympus would no longer shelter them.  “How do you get on with it at all?”  His question lingered in the air, like the moment after the first drop of rain, but before the second.  It insinuated a dark chasm that I had heretofore generally avoided.

Colorado Meadows

Colorado Meadows (Photo credit: QualityFrog)

“I don’t get on with it at all,” I responded.  “I simply play dead, and it gets tired and moves along on its way.  It is dumb, sir, and spends time fretting over its feces, and pulling thorns from its feet.  Me, I adjust the shadows so they cloak me when I sleep, and when I arrive at a new destination, they always arrive a step behind me, lapping at the sunlit, dappled ground.”

I paid my tab and left that place.  On the way out of Ouray, on a cannonball headed to the Atlantic, I spotted a ballgame out my window.  A barefoot boy, bat on his shoulder, turned to look at the train barreling by his little, brown diamond.  He waved, perhaps not at me, but at the image of speed and power that captured his imagination.

I thought I knew just how he felt.  I waved back, (just in case), head resting against the cool windowpane, eyes closed now, and said goodbye.

Ten Reasons Why Baseball is Better Than Football

I have to face the fact that football seems to have brazenly overtaken baseball as the de facto national pastime.  Even in its off-season, football news and gossip (usually the same thing), often intrudes itself into our lives with depressing regularity.  The bi-weekly drug arrests, revolving quarterback soap operas, and mind-numbing stories about which draft picks will break camp hold about as much interest for me as my aunt’s wilted cole slaw on Easter Sunday.

Still, I won’t go down without a fight.

So, for the record, here are ten reasons why baseball is better than football.

1)  Baseball is not constantly interrupted by little men throwing their dainty little yellow flags all over the field every time they have a conniption fit because they saw something that offended their hair-trigger sensibilities.

2)  Baseball players do not wear helmets that make them look like anonymous Terminators bent on the destruction of the universe.  They look like actual, you know, people.

3)  When a baseball player hits a home run, peer pressure causes him (generally) to put his head down while circling the bases, cross home plate, and quietly receive the accolades of his teammates.  When a football player scores a touchdown, he (generally) responds with an epileptic seizure in the end zone.  It’s not something I enjoy watching, and it makes me wonder why they don’t regulate their medication more effectively.

4)  Baseball fans embrace their sports history and mythology in a way that football fans are incapable of understanding.  Baseball’s lineage is practically Biblical.  To the average football fan, football history goes back to last weekend.

5)  A father playing catch with his son is an emotional bonding experience, passed down through the generations, an unspoken acknowledgement of love, mortality and hope.  A father throwing a football at his son is just a guy suffering from low self-esteem who needs to occasionally pretend that he is an N.F.L. quarterback so he can justify the ongoing emasculation he suffers every Monday morning at work.

6)  Baseball has induced tremendous social change in America.  Jackie Robinson is one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.  His personal bravery and talent greatly improved our civil society by challenging us to re-examine our personal values regarding fairness, race, and what it means to be an American.

Football teaches us that there is nothing bigger in life than immediate success and personal gratification.  Winners are loved, losers are vilified, and none of it means anything three days later.

7)  Baseball gave us Tommy John surgery so that young men with injured arms could rejuvenate their careers.  Football has given us Post-Concussion Syndrome in numbers so large that it is now becoming a virtual epidemic.

8)  A baseball diamond is a pastoral throwback to a time when most of America lived on or near farms and in the countryside, and understood man’s proper relationship to his world.  The football grid-iron, by contrast, resembles the endless modern suburban sprawl that disconnects us from our natural environment as well as from ourselves.

9)  Baseball has “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” a fun, carnival-like song that kids and grownups alike can relate to.  Football has “Are You Ready for Some Football?” an unimaginative, annoying pseudo-country song written by a man who has forever been trying to simultaneously emerge from and cloak himself with the shadow of his much more talented father.

10)  Every baseball at bat boils down to one man facing another, and may the best man win.  It is Achilles vs. Hector, Burr vs. Hamilton, Doc Holliday vs. Johnny Ringo.  An N.F.L. quarterback, by contrast, has no correspondingly singular opponent.  The protagonist has no antagonist.  He wields his sword dubiously against the faceless masses before him, a Roman Legionnaire lost amidst the swirl of the barbarian horde.

And that’s why baseball is better than football.

Hero Worship and Baseball: Is A-Rod Today’s Narcissus?

Alex Rodriguez sharing his thoughts on a calle...

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote the following article, which first appeared on the baseball website, “Books on Baseball,” two months ago.  I am reprinting it here in its entirety for those of you who might not have had a chance to read it at that time.

Can a baseball player whose biggest fan is himself still be a hero to others?  Historically, baseball’s great ball players have broken down into two camps:  those who refuse to accept the mantle of role model versus those who understand and accept that with great fortune comes great responsibility.

So may he himself love, and not gain the thing he loves! (Ovid)

Stan Musial, in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, is portrayed accurately as a hero because he has spent his whole baseball life living up to this responsibility in a humble, self-effacing way.  He has always gone out of his way to please his fans, many of whom have worshipped him as a hero now for decades.

Still other players, too numerous to mention, clearly enjoy the fame and fortune that baseball affords them, but refuse to accept any personal, let alone moral responsibility for their actions either on or off the field.  If a fan wants to worship him as a hero, fine.  It’ll mean more money in said player’s pocket.

Among the more recent players who have graced this great game, Cal Ripken, Jr. probably comes closest to embodying the characteristics of a true hero.  Not only was Ripken a great player, he was also a selfless player, putting his body on the line every single baseball game for nearly close to two decades without a break.  Moreover, he was a hero because, as a citizen of baseball, no shadow of doubt regarding his life-style, including his personal or professional choices, ever darkened his legacy.

How ironic, then, that one of the players who grew up idolizing Ripken was Alex Rodriguez, who recently hit his 600thcareer home run, a milestone that even Ripken never reached.

But is Alex Rodriguez a hero?

A-Rod is an interesting case because he doesn’t appear to fit into either of the two camps I outlined earlier.  His fawning, pouting countenance before the cameras betrays an inclination to covet a heroic reputation, but his actual behavior suggests the opposite.  He first lied about, then tearfully acknowledged and asked for forgiveness, regarding his use of steroids.  He also enjoys his association with a true hero, Derek Jeter, despite, at one point, jealously belittling Jeter’s skills and talent.

Alex Rodriguez wants it both ways.  Like a spoiled child, he wants to be loved, but he also believes that he should be immune from the norms and rules that govern the behavior of others, because he believes he is Beauty and Talent personified.

In fact, almost 2,000 years ago, this form of the “human condition” can be found in Roman poet Ovid’s work.

Ovid, a prolific writer who penned poetic tales of erotic love based on Greco-Roman mythological figures, wrote the following about Narcissus, a beautiful young man who stared at his reflection in a pool of water until he died:

“What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away, and the object of your love will be no more.  That which you behold is but a shadow of a reflected form, and has no substance of its own.”  (Ovid’s Metamorphosis)

Alex Rodriguez wants us to love him as much as he loves himself.  But this is impossible, because no one can love A-Rod as much as he loves himself.  And, like Narcissus staring at his own reflection, A-Rod sees only one man before him; there is simply no room, nor is there any need, to see others as well.

Like Narcissus’ ending, staring at his own reflection forever, A-Rod’s career has been also tragic.  Because of his personality and actions, fans have become numb to his historic achievements.  Even as he his home run numbers hit historic proportions, we have become by-standers in his one-man narcissistic drama.

A-Rod may very well reach 700, or even 800 home runs, a staggeringly high number.  A question lingers for him….

Will A-Rod always be Narcissus, merely a shadow of a reflected form, a hollow image of greatness devoid of humility or gratitude or can he rehabilitate himself–stand away from the reflective pond waters–and earn the fans’ respect?

Can Alex Rodriquez truly become a hero?

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