Casey Stengel (1890-1975), a former New York Yankees manager and then the manager of the expansion New York Mets, gave advice to his former player, Yogi Berra (1925-2015), in January 1964 after Berra was named the new manager of the Yankees. New York (NY) Times writer Robert Lipsyte wrote about the three-way conversation on January 12, 1964:
“If you can’t imitate anybody, don’t copy him. Because sooner or later you’ll have to pay the fiddler. Such advice, from the oldest manager in the major leagues, Casey Stengel, to the newest, Yogi Berra, flew like tipped fouls Friday night during a three‐way telephone conversation among the two managers and this reporter.”
The Casey Stengel quote appeared in several articles in 1964. In 1969, Baseball Digest said that Berra had given this advice to Ron Swoboda, who was trying to imitate the batting stance of Frank Robinson. Yogi Berra is frequently --and incorrectly—credited for coining the saying.
Wikipedia: Casey Stengel
Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel (/ˈstɛŋɡəl/; July 30, 1890 – September 29, 1975), nicknamed “The Old Perfessor”, was an American Major League Baseball outfielder and manager. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.
Stengel was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and originally nicknamed “Dutch”, a common nickname at that time for Americans of German ancestry. After his major league career began, he acquired the nickname “Casey”, which originally came from the initials of his hometown ("K. C."), which evolved into “Casey”, influenced by the wide popularity of the poem Casey at the Bat. In the 1950s, sportswriters dubbed him with yet another nickname, “The Old Professor” (or “Perfessor"), for his sharp wit and his ability to talk at length on anything baseball-related.
Wikiquote: Yogi Berra
Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (May 12, 1925 – September 22, 2015) was an American baseball player, manager and member of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, noted for his malapropisms.
If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.
. What Time Is It? You Mean Now?: Advice for Life from the Zennest Master of Them All, Simon and Schuster, 2003, ISBN 0743244532, p. 15
New York (NY) Times
A Baseball Dialogue: Socrates Stengel and Disciple Yogi Berra
ROBERT LIPSYTE JAN. 12, 1964
If you can’t imitate anybody, don’t copy him. Because sooner or later you’ll have to pay the fiddler.
Such advice, from the oldest manager in the major leagues, Casey Stengel, to the newest, Yogi Berra, flew like tipped fouls Friday night during a three‐way telephone conversation among the two managers and this reporter.
Casey, who begins his third season with the last‐place New York Mets this year, was speaking from his Glendale (Calif.) bank office. Yogi, who played 11 seasons under Stengel with the Yankees, was in his Montclair (N. J.) home. In a month, the former catcher will begin his first spring training as manager of the champion, a club that unceremoniously dumped Stengel four years ago, when he was only 71 years old.
13 January 1964, Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, pg. 17, col. 1:
Hard to Understand, But…
Stengel Gives Advice to Berra
By Robert Lipsyte
New York Times News Service
NEW YORK, Jan. 12—If you can’t imitate anybody, don’t copy him. Because sooner or later you’ll have to pay the fiddler.
Such advice, from the oldest manager in the major leagues, Casey Stengel, to the newest, Yogi Berra, flew like tipped fouls Friday night during a three-way telephone conversation among the two managers and this reporter.
31 August 1964, The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), “Try and Stop Me” by Bennett Cerf, pg. 2, col. 1:
Casey Stengel, enigmatic and frequently unintelligible skipper of the horrendous New York Mets, gave this (for him) clear-as-a-bell advice to a rookie recently: “Like I told you before, boy, if you can’t imitate a guy, don’t copy him!”
New York (NY) Times
7 April 1972, New York (NY) Times, “The One and Only; Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra”:
Offering advice to Ron Swoboda, who, when he batted, crowded the plate a la Frank Robinson: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” There’s Only One Yogi. No one can imitate or copy Lawrence Peter Berra, the son of a brickyard worker who was born May 12, 1925, in St. Louis.
Yogi: What did Berra say, when did he say it and what does it all mean?
BY ROY BLOUNT JR.
Posted: Tue Sep. 16, 2014
Updated: Wed Sep. 23, 2015
Yogi Berra died on Tuesday night, Sept. 22, at the age of 90, but his legacy as a baseball legend lives on. In honor of his life, here is the following story, “Yogi,” by Roy Blount Jr., which originally ran in the April 2, 1984 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Sometimes diligent research pays off. For instance, there’s the story about what Yogi told a young Met hitter who had adopted Frank Robinson’s batting stance but still wasn’t hitting. “If you can’t imitate him,” Yogi is supposed to have advised, “don’t copy him.”
But on Jan. 11, 1964, right after Berra had been named Yankee manager and a year before he got to the Mets, a long tape-recorded telephone colloquy between Berra, Casey Stengel and reporter Robert Lipsyte appeared, in transcript, in The New York Times. In it Stengel says to Yogi, “If you can’t imitate anybody, don’t copy him. That’s the best advice I can give a new manager.” Conceivably, Berra later passed that adage on to a Met, but because Berra spent several minutes one morning this spring chuckling over the kind of things Stengel used to say and wishing he could remember even a few of them specifically, that seems unlikely.
If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him. —YOGI BERRA
Baseball’s Greatest Quotations (Rev. Ed.):
An Illustrated Treasury of Baseball Quotations and Historical Lore
By Paul Dickson
New York, NY: Collins
Pg. 56 (BERRAISMS/YOGISMS):
“If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” — When Ron Swoboda told Yogi, then a Mets coach, that he liked to crowd the plate like Frank Robinson; quoted in the August 1969 Baseball Digest
What Time Is It? You Mean Now?:
Advice for Life from the Zennest Master of Them All
By Yogi Berra with Dave Kaplan
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster
If You Can’t Imitate Him, Don’t Copy Him.
September 23, 2015
23 Witty Yogi Berra Quotes You Never Knew Were Actually “Yogi-isms” From The Legendary Yankees Catcher
“If You Can’t Imitate Him, Don’t Copy Him.”