Review: It Ain’t Over Covers the Bases in Yogi Berra’s Life and Legacy, On and Off the Field
On the surface, the new documentary about the life and career of baseball legend Yogi Berra, It Ain’t Over, might seem to be a straightforward account of his accomplishments, obstacles, and soaring victories. But this sharp film from director Sean Mullin is actually told, in large part, from the perspective of Berra’s granddaughter (and executive producer) Lindsay Berra, who maintains that the story of her grandfather is the story of a star athlete being overlooked in large part due to his off-the-field persona of being almost too ordinary. A few years back, Lindsay was watching a game meant to honor baseball’s legacy, which featured appearances by the four greatest living players, as voted by fans. Berra was not among them despite having more World Series rings (as player and coach) than all of them combined and having been selected MVP more than any of them. Lindsay’s response to her grandfather was “Are you dead?” His response, in classic Yogi Berra fashion was “Not yet.”
Thus begins what is essentially a thesis on why Berra should have been among that legacy group at the time (he has since passed away), and an examination of why he isn’t typically spoken of in the same way that some of the sport’s other legends are. Anyone who knew him or watched him play regularly already knows he’s one of the greatest. But he was the not-classically-handsome son of Italian immigrants who frequently made up or mixed up expressions to create classic Yogisms (“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” “Deja vu all over again.”) that the press loved to quote. He was a member of the New York Yankees (as catcher) for his entire career on the field, and not only as a great player, but a valuable team leader who whipped rookies into shape and made good pitchers great. It’s the primary reason his transition to a coaching positions was so seamless. From the catcher’s position, he could observe the entire game and make adjustments to make his teammates better.
With very little effort and exemplary use of archival footage, rare home movies and private photos, and interviews with the likes of Bob Costas, Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Vin Scully, Don Mattingly, and even lifelong fan Billy Crystal, as well as a host of family members, It’s Ain’t Over covers the bases, as it were, in showing that one of the most mocked and caricatured players in baseball history was also a good guy, a humanitarian (he was one of the first to embrace Black players coming into the league, including his longtime friend Jackie Robinson), and one of the greatest players to be under-appreciated by the fans.
The film is also loaded with laughs—Berra’s Yoo-hoo commercials, his disdain for the Yogi Bear cartoons, his feud with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, and remembrances from fellow players, because it seems as though anyone who knew Berra had at least one legendary story about him, some of which are actually true. The film even digs into which famous Yogi sayings he may not have actually said. It Ain’t Over is loaded with epic statistics and wonderful stories, all of which serve to enlarge the myth and the real, often misunderstood man, embodying Berra beautifully and appropriately. Sports documentaries are often too glowing and stuffed with praise, but this is the story of a humble person who’s left the legend-building to others.
The film is now in a limited theatrical run.
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