At the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Stars game, fans voted Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax, and Willie Mays as the best players the game has ever seen. Yogi Berra, a 10-time World Series winner as a catcher for the New York Yankees organization, was not even in the conversation. This point marks the start of a reflection of the life, times, influence, and open-mindedness of Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra in Sean Mullin’s It Ain’t Over.
The documentary features over a dozen family, friends, and players influenced by Berra through pivotal moments in the famed baseball player’s life. Berra, the son of Italian immigrants, grew up in a poor household in The Hill area of Saint Louis. There was a love of baseball present from a very young age, and the family’s hard times forced the Berra boys, all of whom were inclined to play the game and who wanted to be boys, to work. Because Yogi was the strongest player in the family, he was eventually granted the opportunity to pursue the game.
Yogi-isms punctuate and drive It Ain’t Over; as a matter of fact, the documentary title IS a Yogi-ism. Whether some of these mantras were attributed to the man or myth raises its head. The documentary never questions them, though certain interview subjects have trouble distinguishing where these sayings originated from; the power and impact on the people Berra touched are true.
After serving in World War II, Berra returned to the world of baseball, and from there, his road only shined. A simplistic man, he could distill a complex process into a basic form, so much so that English scholars indicate that, though he wasn’t using the syntax correctly, you inherently understood what he was communicating. That is the most potent aphorism to take away from It Ain’t Over, distilling a “simplex” idea into its base forms, and while on its surface it might not make sense, when you stop to think about what was said, it makes sense.
Berra said: “You can observe a lot by watching.” Watching It Ain’t Over, I reflected on my grandfathers. Not the idea that they witnessed Berra’s rise but on his wisdom. My mom’s dad loved baseball, and I can remember as a ten-year-old, Louis, sitting next to the radio, listening to the Milwaukee Brewers, a smile on his face as he listened to the games. He could follow the game without the need for an instant replay, a subject of contention when Berra famously argued over a call at home plate when the umpire ruled Jackie Robinson safe. That’s the power of baseball, the pure innocence of the game, where boys can be boys. Louis was a boy at heart when he listened to his games, something I reflect fondly over. That feeling of pride in what those boys of summer captured and their influence today were not lost in the art of It Ain’t Over. However, it has dwindled, and that’s not the game of baseball today.
Complexities and power of friendships mark It Ain’t Over, especially the ongoing feud between Berra and George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees organization, who unceremoniously sent an assistant manager to fire Berra after only 16 games when, after returning from a stint with the New York Mets as manager, couldn’t rally the Yankees. Berra vowed never to return to Yankees Stadium, citing the feud. Eventually, it was sorted out, and Berra released himself from self-exile from Yankees Stadium.
“It’s deja vu all over again,” rang true as Berra caught the first throw in his celebrated return to Yankees Stadium. The Yankees, who had not had a no-hit series game since Berra’s time, made it happen again. Like anything in life, there are commonalities and communities that human bonds are capable of and are necessary to form. Berra was someone whose innocence and “simplexity” was infectious; even though I have no real attachment to the game, I felt a sense of pride swelling up in me several times out of respect for his legacy. It Ain’t Over is one of the more personal documentaries, not just because of his impact on the game or life. It was because of Berra’s power to bring humans together, to build bridges and bonds (and break them if you’re Mr. Steinbrenner.)
Mullin’s first Yogi-ism is “I’d be pretty dumb if all of a sudden, I started being something I’m not.” Yogi Berra was a true original. It Ain’t Over, now in theaters, is a powerful tribute to the even-keeled catcher, coach, manager, and friend to the Yankees and people worldwide.
It Ain’t Over
Written and Directed by Sean Mullin
Featuring Andy Andres, Roger Angell, Marty Appel, Allen Barra, Carmen Berra, Dale Berra, Larry Berra, Lindsay Berra, Tim Berra, Yogi Berra, Bobby Brown, Bob Costas, Billy Crystal, Larry Doby Jr., Joe Garagiola Jr., Joe Garagiola, Joe Girardi, Ron Guidry, Derek Jeter, Don Larsen, Don Mattingly, Willie Randolph, Mariano Rivera, Vin Scully, Hal Steinbrenner
PG, 98 mins., Sony Pictures Classics