Yogi Berra is one of those athletes everyone knew and liked, even if they didn’t care about baseball. He was a unique personality, and was known for his witticisms and affable personality. He inspired a household name cartoon character, guested on countless talk shows, and appeared in dozens of TV commercials. That’s kind of the problem. His public persona unfairly overshadowed his accomplishments on the field. The wonderful documentary It Ain’t Over aims to set the record straight.
Featuring interviews with people like his granddaughter Lindsay, sportscaster Bob Costas, and comedian/friend Billy Crystal, the film digs into Berra’s early life, including being one of the soldiers who stormed Omaha Beach during WWII. Upon entering professional baseball, he created a bit of a stir because he didn’t have the conventional look of most other players. His “swing at anything” approach was powerful, quickly turning him into a sensation. Ten championship rings followed in his career, and he morphed into a successful manager after retiring from playing.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, Berra became a celebrity. It Ain’t Over offers an in-depth dissection of his patented “Yogi-isms,” comments that sound nonsensical on the surface, yet reveal depth when pondered more fully. (Example: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”) These bits of quirky wisdom expanded Berra’s fanbase outside the ballfield, eventually growing so popular that he was as well-known for them as for anything else. He also directly inspired Yogi Bear, a fact that greatly displeased him. Those factors, plus the many commercials, had the cumulative effect of making his baseball triumphs recede into the background in the general public's mind.
Director Sean Mullin makes sure the documentary puts most of its emphasis where it belongs, detailing his multitude of professional victories. One of the best sections recounts how George Steinbrenner stupidly fired Berra as manager of the Yankees after only sixteen games, despite him having won the pennant during a previous stint as manager. This ignited a years-long feud between them that finally ended when the owner apologized. Berra’s winning record as both player and manager are celebrated here, showing that he had an understanding of the game beyond what most others did.
It Ain’t Over hits a balance that feels perfect for its subject. The movie is endlessly charming, while never failing to ensure Yoga Berra’s impact on baseball is put front and center. You walk away with newfound appreciation for the man, who excelled in his sport but kept his feet on the ground.
out of four
It Ain't Over is rated PG for smoking, some drug references, language, and brief war images. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.