It Ain’t Over, a fun, if admittedly routine documentary by Sean Mullin, gives one of baseball’s most underrated giants their proper flowers. The player in question is New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra, a man whose charming, playful, and outsized personality overshadowed his tremendous accomplishments on the diamond. One of the best catchers to ever play the game, Berra’s stats are inarguably among the greats, yet he’s routinely left out of conversations about baseball’s GOATs. It Ain’t Over does a fine job of reminding many viewers unfamiliar with Berra’s storied career what made him different beyond his status as an unlikely pop culture icon.
Born into a poor Italian immigrant family, New Yorker and military veteran Larry “Yogi” Berra made a huge name for himself in the 1940s and 50s behind home plate for his hometown Yankees. (Originally, Berra was being heavily courted by Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers, but they missed the boat by waiting too long to sign him.) A bridge between the noteworthy eras of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Berra was often overshadowed by the sheer star power around him on the team, but he was never a slouch. He was one of the best clutch hitters in the game, capable of hitting even the most marginal of pitches. His defensive skills and (mostly) calm demeanour redefined the position of catcher. Berra is one of only six players to win the league’s MVP award three times, and the only player in history with a whopping ten World Series rings around his fingers.
But that’s not what Berra is best remembered for, if he’s even remembered at all by the newest of fans these days. His accomplishments as a coach for both the Yankees (who he excommunicated himself from following a heated dispute with former owner and notorious tightwad George Steinbrenner) and the crosstown Mets (which he helped turn around in truly miraculous fashion) are equally unremarked upon. Thanks to his quick wit and unusual looks, Berra became a superstar of a different kind. Today, his best known works are his off the cuff “Yogi-isms,” quotes that sound outlandish, but make perfect sense if you think about them for a second. (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” “It’s deja vu all over again.” “I really didn’t say everything I said.”)
Early on in It Ain’t Over, Berra’s granddaughter, Lindsay, remembers taking a trip with her father (who passed away in 2015 at the ripe old age of 90) to the 2015 All Star Game, where the top four greatest ballplayers still alive were introduced to the crowd with appropriate pomp and circumstance. While the players chosen for the ceremony were undoubtedly some of the greats, Lindsay (and assuredly many others) wondered from the crowd why her grandfather was left out of the conversation. Through interviews with players past and present (Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Don Mattingly) and plenty of noteworthy admirers (Bob Costas, notable baseball enthusiast Billy Crystal) mixed together with a requisite amount of archival materials – some rare, some well known – Mullin crafts a love letter to Berra, attempting to balance his cache as a cultural icon with his accomplishments as a player and father. Most notably, Mullin and his subjects do an exceptional job of explaining the important unspoken duties of a catcher on the field, something that often goes as overlooked as Berra’s career has been in recent years.
While a lot of It Ain’t Over is built around the importance of Berra’s connection to his family, at least Mullin’s film is upfront about its particularly harmless, low stakes bias. The structure of the documentary is solid, if familiar, and it accomplishes the task of making even the uninitiated or – even worse – most die hard Yankee haters fall in love with who Yogi Berra was as a person inside and outside the game of baseball. A perfect blend of class and sass, Berra was a true character, and It Ain’t Over builds a nifty, entertaining documentary around his rare personality.
It Ain’t Over opens at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto on Friday, May 26, 2023. It expands to additional Canadian cities throughout the summer.
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