If you’re a Yankee fan, you will love this.
If you’re a Met fan, you will also love this.
And if you dislike New York sports teams with every fiber in your body, you will still love the documentary, “It Ain’t Over” about Lawrence Peter “Yogi” (It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over) Berra.
Sony Pictures Classics releases the doc in theaters in the tri-state area and Los Angeles on May 12, but at a recent screening in New York, the doc emits what the country needs.
There are lots of “Wait! What?” Yogi-isms, but the iconic Hall of Fame Yankee catcher is well represented by a plethora of baseball greats and their insights.
How many documentaries have a casting call that includes Torre, Girardi, Jeter, Mattingly, Guidry, Rivera and Randolph?
There’s also interviews with teammates Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Don Larsen, owner Hal Steinbrenner, Hall of Fame journalists Vin Scully, Bob Costas, Claire Smith, comedian Billy Crystal and others.
Berra, the great American quote machine, died in 2015 at the age of 90.
From his beginnings in St. Louis on “The Hill” and across the street from future major leaguer Joe Garagiola, Berra the athlete, who didn’t look the part, was born. And he was more than just a ballplayer.
What people may not know was Berra was on a Naval rocket boat during the World War II invasion at Normandy. It was quite enticing listening to Berra explain the sequence on how the rockets were fired.
“I hope this documentary does remind people he was probably as good a catcher who has ever been in the game,” states Suzyn Waldman who has covered the Yankees since 1987. “What he did and what he meant to the Yankees has gotten lost in the myth of Yogi Berra.
“This is not just a story about a baseball player whom we loved. It’s a story about life in a certain part of this country. He’s flat out a war hero. He didn’t wait to get drafted. He enlisted.”
When Berra got wounded, he didn’t put in for a Purple Heart because he didn’t want to worry his mom. Eventually, he got it and a lot of other accolades including posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015 from President Obama) and got his lovable likeness on a U.S. postage stamp (2021).
What brings the film to life, smoothly directed by Sean Mullin and with narration from executive producer Lindsay Berra (his granddaughter), are the stories, the laughs, the old black and white photos and film of Berra as a Yankee from a faraway era.
A different time is witnessed by his catcher’s mask and glove which would be laughed out of today’s game.
No batting gloves, arm protectors, helmets or pitch clocks, it was baseball played by an all-time great surrounded by all-time greats. There’s photos of teammates DiMaggio and Mantle, of Berra shaking Babe Ruth’s hand and an account right after a World Series game with Jackie Robinson being interviewed standing side by side.
That ain’t happening today.
“He always made me laugh,” remembers Claire Smith, Hall of Fame baseball writer, who covered the Yankees as the first female Major League Baseball beat writer for the Hartford Courant (1982-88) and a columnist for The New York Times (1991-98).
Smith was disrespected at the 1984 National League Championship Series after Game 1 between the San Diego Padres and home team Chicago Cubs. She was kicked out of the Padres clubhouse because she was a woman.
The next game saw Commissioner Peter Ueberroth emphasize the policy that the clubhouse was to be open to all reporters. Ironically, Smith had no such issues with Berra.
“The first time I met him it was, ‘Hi Claire.’ It wasn’t, ‘Oh, a woman,’ or ‘Oh, a Black person’ with that hesitancy,” recalls Smith, now a professor and co-director of the Claire Smith Center for Sports Media at Temple University her alma mater. She has covered baseball for 40 years. “It was immediate respect and welcoming and that never changed.”
You can feel it in the doc when Smith notes there wouldn’t be a Jackie Robinson if not for Berra, Ted Williams and Pee Wee Reese accepting him.
The doc touches on the famous Phil Linz harmonica incident and yes, there’s Berra’s reaction to Robinson stealing home during the 1955 World Series. To the day he died, Berra knew he was out.
Even when the footage was broken down, frame by frame, he never changed his mind. No Yogi-ism needed. Though many a Yankee needled him about Robinson being “safe” to rile him up.
Berra was a three-time MVP, 10-time World Series champion (three more as a coach) and an 18-time All Star. He managed both the Yankees and Mets to World Series Game 7s only to lose both times.
Willie Randolph was coached and managed by Berra with the Yankees, and he could always count on him.
“I’ve never seen him mad, mad,” acknowledges Randolph, the former Mets skipper. “For a guy who was as big as he was in Yankee lore, he was very, very down to earth.
“As a leader, he always had your back and let you do your thing. He never seemed to be in a panic mode. He became a friend, my coach, my manager. I miss him.”
“He was utterly unselfconscious,” says Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Costas. “He was not only comfortable; he was happy in his own skin. There was no pretense about him whatsoever.”
The film isn’t all baseball and Yoo-hoos. There’s how Berra dealt with son Dale’s cocaine addiction, his dismay of the cartoon “Yogi Bear,” the quick firing by George Steinbrenner (by proxy) in 1985 after just 16 games which kept the prideful man away from Yankee Stadium for 14 years.
Waldman never met Berra until 1999 when she brokered the peace between him, and George Steinbrenner and they settled their differences at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University, where he liked to read to children.
There’s the apology by Steinbrenner and the reconciliation and Berra’s family life. With his three sons, eleven grandchildren and one great-grandchild, his wife Carmen is a star in her own rite.
If you learn anything from ‘It Ain’t Over” is that Yogi and Carmen were in love before, during and after baseball. They were a cute couple from the beginning to the end. Carmen died March 6, 2014, at age 85, 18 months before her beloved Yogi.
They were married 65 years.
It’s one of those rare documentaries that makes you want to clap while smiling at the end, and you should.
“I don’t know who you compare him to,” wonders Costas. “Maybe that’s what makes him so wonderful. There was no mold … he created it … he broke it.
“He’s in that national treasure category.”
And it’s so apropos that when the documentary’s final credits roll, Lenny Kravitz is crooning – what else? – “It Ain’t Over ‘til it’s Over.”
Whether or not you have met Yogi Berra, everyone has a favorite Yogi-ism like “When you get to the fork in the road, take it.”
Here are some of his ditties recalled by his peers and friends.
“At one Old Timer’s Day they put [recently deceased] people’s names up on the board and Yogi looks at it and says, ‘I hope I don’t see my name up there.’”
“On being a bad ball hitter, he said, ‘Well, if I hit them, I guess they weren’t bad.’”
“Cut my pizza in six (slices) because I don’t think I can eat eight.”
Yogi about a recent film: “Steve McQueen must have made that movie before he died.”
“Managing the Mets in ‘73, when streaking was a national craze, three streakers struck during a spring training game. The next day the Mets are playing the Yankees and Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle are there as honorary coaches. They ask Yogi what happened. He says [the pitcher] goes into his stretch and three streakers run across the infield, they jump over the fence and disappear in the parking lot.
And Mantle goes, ‘Were they men or women?’ And Yogi says, ‘I couldn’t tell, they had bags over their heads.’ I thought someone made this up. Fast forward 20 years and I’m at some golf tournament with Yogi and I asked him, ‘Did you really say that?’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, I did.’”