It Ain’t Over (2023)

‘It Ain’t Over’ is a Yankee-Doodle dandy

If there’s anyone who lived a charmed life, it was Yogi Berra. Even when he lost, he won. But the real victors were those thoroughly entertained by his endearing endeavors off and on the field. Even Yankees haters loved Yogi. He was that kind of guy. And “It Ain’t Over” is that kind of movie.

Impeccably constructed by documentarian Sean Mullen, the story of Berra’s storybook life is funny, inspiring, and most of all, truly moving. It’s the ideal posthumous tribute to an icon who, as the movie points out, wasn’t always given his due. As friend and fan Billy Crystal notes, “Yogi was the most overlooked superstar in the history of baseball.” A man, as Crystal adds, “whose personality overshadowed his talent as a ballplayer.”

“It Ain’t Over” goes a long way in making amends, with its extensive exploration of all facets of Berra’s remarkable 90 too-short years. Whether on the field, in the dugout, on the boob tube, or on the beaches of Normandy, Berra left an indelible mark on our history, our culture and our collective consciousness. But John Wayne or Gary Cooper, he was not. Short, stocky and sporting a mug only Yoda could love (Joe DiMaggio compared him to a fireplug), Berra was not the guy every man aspired to lookswise, but character and fortitude were a different story. That is if they dared try. As Yogi himself would say in one of his trademark malaprops, “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”

Indeed, there will never be another Yogi. On the diamond, he was part of 18 World Series as a player, manager, or coach. He won 13 of them, 10 as the Yankees’ Hall of Fame catcher, one as a coach on 1969’s Amazing Mets, and two more as a Yankees assistant in 1977 and ’78.

Off the field, he was even more prolific: winning the heart of the gorgeous Carmen, his devoted wife of 65 years; fathering three strapping sons, one of whom (Dale) was a baseball star himself in the early 1980s, including a brief stint playing for his dad on the 1985 Yankees; and becoming a fixture in classic TV ads pitching everything from Aflac (not Amtrak as he originally thought) to YooHoo to Miller Lite.

But that’s just scratching the surface. “It Ain’t Over” goes deeper in making the case that the St. Louis native may have been the greatest player to ever don pinstripes. Better than Ruth. Better than DiMaggio. And the film delivers stats and charts to prove it. They include Berra’s status as one of only three players with more than 350 home runs and less than 50 strikeouts, winning three MVPs and finishing second twice, catching an unheard of 117 double-headers, his selection as an All-Star 18 times, ranking fourth all-time in homers by a catcher, and racking up a lifetime WAR of 59.5. Yeah, he was pretty good.

What I appreciated most, beyond the classic Yogi-isms (“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”), faded black and white footage and colorful anecdotes shared by a host of his contemporaries and the many whippersnappers he mentored — Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Nick Swisher, Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly, Al Downing — was his oversized personality. Sure, he could be tough, but at his core, he was as cuddly as a Teddy bear.

Just ask his three boys, Larry, Tim and Dale. Or, his No. 1 fan, granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, who not only spearheaded the campaign to nominate her Nonno for a Purple Heart and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but authenticates him in such a tender way so as to render him both relatable and lovable. Lindsay is Mullen’s go-to contributor, and she proves a worthy advocate. While the others reminisce about the coach and ballplayer, she captures the essence of Yogi the family man. Her recollections, along with those of her uncles and father, Larry, portray a lovely patriarch who was quick with a quip and a smile but could also express fury, as he did when Dale was implicated in an MLB cocaine scandal in 1986.

Seldom is Yogi (the nickname originated when, as a youth, he adopted the lotus position while waiting to bat) upstaged. He’s as ubiquitous here as he was as a TV pitchman who could sell catfood as convincingly as he could sell his battery mate on the next pitch. That includes Don Larsen, the middling Yankee hurler who tossed a perfect game with Yogi behind the plate in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. The film gets a lot of mileage out of that feat, but even more from the still controversial play in Game 1 of the 1955 Series, when Jackie Robinson stole home on Berra. The ump declared Robinson safe. To his dying day, and perhaps beyond, Yogi argued the Dodger icon was out. Dale Berra speculates the beef continues in heaven. Who’s to doubt him?

Like Yogi, the film saves its best exploits for the late innings, when Mullen addresses both Carmen’s death (bring tissues) and the ugly feud between Berra and hated Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after the latter fired Yogi just 16 games into the 1985 season. Most galling, Steinbrenner dispatched a front-office flunky to do the deed, an act of cowardice that so upset Berra he swore he’d never set foot in Yankee Stadium again. The tale of how the two bullheaded frenemies eventually reconciled is as fascinating as what occurred on Yogi’s first day back in the Bronx on July 18, 1999. And that was Yankee pitcher David Cone tossing a perfect game. But that’s only half of it. Before Cone’s masterpiece, Don Larsen threw out the first pitch to Yogi in recognition of the only perfect game in World Series history. You can’t make this stuff up.

As the talking heads agree, magic like that seemed to follow Yogi wherever he went. And the latest proof of that is Mullen’s marvelous homage. See it. It will make you smarter. Or, as Yogi would say, “You can learn a lot by watching.”

Movie review

It Ain’t Over

Rated: PG for some drug references, brief war images, smoking, language

Writer-director: Sean Mullin

Runtime: 98 minutes

Grade: A-

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