It Ain’t Over
(USA, 98 min.)
Dir. Sean Mullin
Yogi Berra was one of the greatest baseball players of all time but Sean Mullin’s documentary makes the point that he didn’t look the part. Only 5 foot 7 inches with a build that New Yorker writer Roger Angell memorably called “all round,” Berra was never an Adonis, but he certainly knew how to hit a ball and call the pitches for a struggling pitcher in a baseball game. (He called the only perfect game in World Series history). In fact, as the New York Yankees’ catcher during their most dominant period as a team—14 out of 16 American League pennants and 9 World Championships from 1949-1964–Berra was chosen the Most Valuable Player in his league three teams and finished second twice. But even at the high point of his career, his friendly, homely face and odd gnomic statements made him more of a comic figure than an awesome one.
To the world outside of baseball purists, Berra is famous for his Yogi-isms, pithy statements that sound dumb but are actually meaningful. The film’s title derives from “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” one of his simply brilliant one-liners. What it says is true for a baseball game and, of course, for life. Many others are equally funny yet profound: “It’s like déjà vu all over again;” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it;” “You can observe a lot by just watching;” “No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded;” “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” People still quote Yogi-isms and laugh with rueful recognition of their veracity. His contribution to the American language is unparalleled among sports figures and Mullin has fun with it, quoting liberally from Berra and matching his statements with obviously profound ones by Einstein, Confucius—you get the picture.
Mullin’s documentary benefits from the participation of the Berra family—granddaughter Lindsay being a particular charmer—as well as warm and funny commentary from such celebrities as Billy Crystal, broadcaster Bob Costas, and former Yankees stars Derek Jeter and Willie Randolph. Adding to the depth of the film is a wide range of archival footage spanning from legendary baseball games to the catcher’s appearance on the famous interview show Person to Person back in the 1950s. The catcher comes across as an affable humble fellow, who took pride in his accomplishments but remained a family man with his feet planted firmly on the ground once he departed baseball parks.
An attempt is made to build conflict in a life that had far more high points than low by building a frame around the 2015 All Star game when the four legends chosen by fans didn’t include Berra. Baseball fans will hardly disagree with the choices of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Sandy Koufax with the bone of contention likely being the catcher Johnny Bench instead of Berra. Was Bench given the nod because he looks the part of a sporting legend more than the somewhat comical Berra? Possibly, and the point is made that Berra was as terrific as any of them.
In his day, Berra was so loved that cartoon character Yogi Bear was named after him. Not even Babe Ruth can make a similar claim. During the 1950s and early ’60s, the Yankees were hated by many fans who disliked their arrogant winning ways. The exception wasn’t their golden boy Mickey Mantle, who was regularly booed in opposition ball parks. The only Yank who got a free pass was Yogi. No one could really work up a healthy anger against him. I say this as a very young Chicago White Sox fan in those days; even the gang at Comiskey Park begrudgingly liked Berra.
Mullin’s doc huffs and puffs a bit too much, building up his case for Berra. It turns out that Yogi was in the Navy supporting the troops on D-Day in World War Two and deserved a Purple Heart. As a dad, he read the riot act to son Dale, a baseball player who became enmeshed in the Eighties cocaine scandals, the result being that his boy has been drug-free for decades. Yogi’s 65-year marriage to Carmen is extolled by all as a model of love and decorum. What’s not to like? It Ain’t Over is a fine profile of an exemplary man, who may have been misunderstood, but is clearly beloved.