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Yogi Berra, baseball player and source of folk wisdom, dies at 90

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Yogi Berra: 1925-2015

(CNN) — Yogi Berra, the baseball legend known as much for his on-the-field historic streak as his unintentionally humorous malapropisms, has died.

He died Tuesday night, the Yogi Berra Museum said. He was 90.

Berra was one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. But it is for his sometimes mystifying utterances, or Yogisms, that he is most widely known.

Perhaps his most famous observation was, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” It was pure Yogi — at once blindingly obvious, yet beyond that a call to courage, an exhortation never to give up until the ballgame’s final out.

Berra was the backbone of a New York Yankees dynasty that won 10 World Series championships — the most in the sport’s history.

Born Lawrence Peter Berra, the son of Italian immigrants, one version is that he earned the nickname “Yogi” from a childhood friend who said the snake charmer in a movie looked like Berra.

He dropped out of school in the 8th grade to help support his family by playing baseball, then later served in the U.S. Navy.

On the field

His early years on the field weren’t so successful.

“My first two years, I was awful. I was terrible,” Berra told CNN in a 2003 interview.

He said his fingers were so short that they had to be painted just to be more visible to pitchers.

He holds several World Series records, including most games by a catcher (63); hits (71); times on a winning team (10); first in at bats, first in doubles, second in RBI’s, third in home runs and walks, and hit the first pinch hit home run in World Series history in 1947.

Colorful phrases

As much a source of folk wisdom as he was a competitor, Berra’ colorful, disjointed turns of phrase made him one of the most quoted Americans since Mark Twain, and a favorite of politicians of both parties.

“Yogi’s been an inspiration to me,” George W. Bush once said. “Not only because of his baseball skills but because of the enduring mark he left in the English language,”

Among his contributions to the vernacular: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and “It’s deja vu, all over again.”

“I really don’t know why I say them,” he once told CNN. “It just comes out.”

His lovable persona led to him being the inspiration for the cartoon character Yogi Bear.

Back and forth

After his record–breaking run with the Yankees, Berra became the team’s manager in 1964 — only to be fired after losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

So he joined the nearby New York Mets as a player and coach.

Berra was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Three years later, he was fired by the Mets and later re-hired as manager of the Yankees.

He was fired once again, by the Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, in 1985, after just 22 games. But Steinbrenner fired Berra through an emissary rather than in person, leading to a rift between the two men that lasted nearly 15 years.

Berra finished his baseball career in 1992 as a coach for the Houston Astros.

“It was fun,” he reminisced at the opening of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in New Jersey. “If I had to do it over, I’d do it again.”