By Laurence Lerman / New York City
It Ain’t Over, a meticulous and celebratory chronicle of the life and career of baseball player Yogi Berra, is a pleasure to watch. And this is coming from an admittedly only casual baseball fan who has never much followed the New York Yankees, where the Hall of Famer spent the bulk of his 40-plus year career as a player and then coach and manager. But I found myself quite taken by this worshipful examination of Berra’s accomplishments, well-known, friendly persona and legacy.
Written and directed by Sean Mullin and executive produced by Berra’s granddaughter Lindsay Berra, It Ain’t Over premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival last June, where I caught a screening of it alongside a number of other journalists. There were many folks there who didn’t give off a baseball- or Yankee-loving vibe either, but from what I could see, they all seemed to enjoy the film as much as I did.
And that’s saying something. Or as Yogi Berra (who died in 2015 at 90) once put it in one of his famed “Yogi-isms,” the impromptu, unintentionally funny comments he was wont to make, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
Distributor Sony Pictures Classics released It Ain’t Over in a limited rollout in New York and Los Angeles and surrounding areas on Friday (May 12) and plans to expand over the following weeks.
The film finished up the weekend with a not-bad $107,000 gross on 99 screens.
As the catcher for the most storied team in the history of Major League Baseball, Yogi Berra’s statistics are simply outstanding. As It Ain’t Over carefully details, the St. Louis native racked up 10 World Series rings, three American MVP awards and, remarkably, 18 All-Star Game appearances. Whoa.
Born Lawrence Peter Berra in 1925, Yogi played his first game as a New York Yankee in September, 1946. “Yogi” was a nickname he picked up from childhood friend and fellow ballplayer Jack Maguire when both were teens and Maguire observed that Berra resembled a yogi from India when he sat with his arms and legs crossed. He was a fine catcher and batter from the get-go and only got better, setting a slew of records, many of them in the course of his 14 World Series appearances.
In Game 5 of the 1956 Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was behind the plate for Yankee pitcher Don Larsen’s legendary perfect game, the only one thrown in the history of post-season play.
Berra’s prodigious talents were matched by his persona and life off the field, from his Yogi-isms to his history as a WWII veteran (he saw combat as a U.S. Navy gunner’s mate during the Normandy landings) to his reputation as a loving husband (he was married to his wife Carmen for 65 years) and father. And then there was his regular presence on post-game interviews and talk shows and in a myriad of product endorsements in TV commercials over the decades (Stove Top Stuffing, anyone?).
The film contends that Yogi’s familiar and fun personality and celebrity status overshadowed the fact that he was indeed one of the game’s great players. Sometimes, the numbers do say it all, and Yogi definitely had’em.
There is plenty of talking head commentary included to reinforce this. Though most of Yogi’s renowned teammates from the golden age are gone, there are still a few on hand to talk up The Man, including such Yankees as Tony Kubec and Bobby Richards (both 87 years old) and the late Ralph Terry.
Better represented are players from the 1980s forward. Don Mattingly, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Mariano Rivera and former manager Joe Torre all have anecdotes and insights to share. Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter appears to remind us that Berra was “a figure who’s larger than life” and that his Yogi-ism “When you see a strike, hit it,” actually “makes a lot of sense.”
As for the film’s titular Yogi-ism, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” supposedly uttered by Yogi to a sports journalist in 1973, well, there’s no trace of that one published anywhere. In fact, there’s a good chance that Yogi never said it at all.
Also in on the action are experts Vin Scully and Bob Costas, and, since we’re talking about the Yankees, Billy Crystal, who remains the Bronx Bombers’ most famous fan.
It Ain’t Over is the latest doc to delve into the game that is still considered to be the our national pastime. (NFL and NBA be damned, baseball remains the most treasured of American sports.)
Reggie, the well-equipped doc on Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson, was released to much praise on Amazon Prime in March, following closely on the cleats of last October’s Say Hey, Willie Mays! about you-know-who. Last year’s Facing Nolan, looked at the nearly 30-year career of pitching legend Nolan Ryan as told by the hitters who faced him and the teammates who played alongside of him.
Also released in 2022 was The Last Out, a well-received feature on three young Cuban baseball players who leave their families and risk exile to pursue their major league dreams.
And that’s before we even consider the many baseball-themed shows that have been popping up over the past year and that date back to Ric Burn’s seminal 1994 nine-part documentary series Baseball. It remained so popular over the years that Burns eventually added a two-part, four-hour sequel in 2010, bringing the entire running time of the colossus to nearly 19 hours. Most recently on the small screen was ESPN’s excellent 2022 series The Captain on Derek Jeter.
It’s Yogi Berra’s turn at bat this season, and it’s truly nice to watch such an an affectionate and even intimate examination of, yes, a bona fide American treasure.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.