Lawrence Peter Berra was born in St. Louis in 1925 and went on to become one of the most famous players in baseball history. In his 18 years with the New York Yankees, he anchored them at catcher, was a power hitter, and a mainstay for the team during their famous post-war run of dominance in Major League Baseball. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972 and named to Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999, Berra was one of the most dominant players of the second half of the 20th century.
He’s better-known in the wider culture, however, as the supposed author of off-the-cuff quips and pithy statements that were, as often as not, malapropisms and paradoxical. These sayings were quirky, funny, and full of unintentional wisdom. They helped him acquire the nickname “Yogi” (after Hindu practitioners of yoga who were also thought to be holy men and fonts of enlightenment). Berra’s sayings became “Yogi-isms” and ran through the popular press like wildfire.
But one of the best-known “Yogi-isms,” “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” has a complicated history, Buzzkillers. Garson O’Toole, the famous Quote Investigator (whose excellent book “Hemingway Didn’t Say That: the Truth Behind Familiar Quotations”) is on the Buzzkill Bookshelf, has done the best research on this. Yogi Berra may have said “déjà vu all over again” after Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit back-to-back home runs in a Yankee game in 1961, but there’s no record of it. Further, “déjà vu all over again” attributions to Yogi Berra didn’t really appear until the mid-1980s. And Yogi himself denied in 1987 that it was one of his Yogi-isms. Yet, by 1998 he changed his mind and thought it had originated with him.
The best we can say is that the _idea_ of “déjà vu again (or all over again)” seems to have been floating around the culture, starting in the early 1960s. Florida poet, Jim Prior, published a light-hearted poem in the St. Petersburg Evening Independent on September 22, 1962. Entitled “Thanks to You,” the first two verses of the poem were:
It’s Déjà Vu again
Out of the blue again
Truer than true again
Thanks to you.
It’s homerun time again
Rhymes seem to rhyme again
My chimes can chime again
Thanks to you.
And in 1966, Clifford Terry, a critic for the Chicago Tribune, added “all over again” to make it “it’s déjà vu all over again,” when he reviewed a cheap spy movie that repeated all the tired cliches of that genre. The phrase appeared again and again throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, in everything from sports reports to stock market analyses to even to First Lady Nancy Reagan’s plans to remodel the White House.
But, in 1984, a financial analyst for the Wall Street Journal referred to “it’s déjà vu all over again” as something “Yogi Berra would say.” The rest, as they say, is history. And Yogi Berra has become such an attribution magnet for sayings like this that the quote has become almost inextricably linked to him and repeated again and again for the last 30 years. So, at least for this Yogi-ism, it really has been déjà vu all over again.