From surviving D-Day and WW II to winning a record 10 World Series championships, not to mention a storybook marriage, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra became an American icon.
Berra’s life and illustrious career is profiled in the brand new documentary, “It Ain’t Over.”
Written and Directed by award winning filmmaker Sean Mullin, It Ain’t Over tells the story of Yogi Berra, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but it’s also a look into the life of a man who became a significant part of Americana.
Yogi Berra was not only a great baseball player, but he was also one of the first athletes to be featured in commercials. The documentary delves into the story of how Berra’s name spawned a famous cartoon character, “Yogi Bear,” and how he coined his own catch phrases (like the title of this documentary) that became known as “Yogisms.”
It Ain’t Over begins with a shot of four, all time great players who were honored before the 2015 All Star Game in Cincinnati. Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays were introduced to the crowd as the four greatest “living” players, but where was Yogi?
Lindsay Berra, the Executive Producer of It Ain’t Over and Yogi’s granddaughter, tells the story of how she was watching the ceremonies with her grandfather. A graphic shows Yogi’s litany of on the field accomplishments, and Lindsay asks Yogi, “Are you dead?” In his inimitable style, he answers, “Not yet.”
There is an impressive list of first hand interviews from family and people who came in contact with Yogi at one point or another in his life. Lindsay, and Yogi’s sons, Larry, Tim and Dale provide the family perspective. Former Yankees like Derek Jeter, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Mariano Rivera and Nick Swisher, along with former Yankee Manager Joe Torre offer their recollections.
A number of broadcasters were interviewed including the late Vin Scully, who saw Yogi play, Bob Costas and Yankee radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman, who spent many moments together with Yogi.
Waldman is credited with bringing Yogi and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner together in 1999 after they had a falling out in 1985 and did not speak for 14 years. The documentary shows the day that Steinbrenner came to the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey to apologize and make amends with the Yankee great.
Yogi grew up in a St. Louis neighborhood known as “The Hill” where he began a life long friendship with former player and Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Garagiola.
Berra overcame a narrative that he couldn’t be a baseball player because he didn’t look like an athlete. As Scully said, “He wasn’t six foot three with blonde hair. Everything about him was funny.”
There’s a fascinating story of how Berra nearly ended up with his hometown St. Louis Cardinals before signing with the Yankees. Branch Rickey, who was with the Cardinals at the time but was about to join the Brooklyn Dodgers, downplayed Berra’s playing ability with the idea of getting him to sign with the Dodgers. The Yankees signed Berra and the rest is history.
Before he began his major league career, Berra was in the United States Navy during World War II and was one of the heroes who stormed the beaches at Normandy on June 6th, 1944, aka “D-Day.”
It Ain’t Over is a fast moving 98 minutes of nostalgia, interviews, and jaw dropping archival footage, much of which has not been seen before.
Berra’s post playing career is just as notable as he became one of the first athletes to endorse commercial products. A number of Yogi’s TV commercials and ads are shown including a famous one for a cat food product where he’s seen talking, face to face with a cat, who talks back to him. (The cat’s voice in the ad was former teammate Whitey Ford)
Berra spearheaded a number of successful business ventures including “Yoo Hoo,” a very popular chocolate drink that had pictures of Yankees on the inside of the bottle caps.
Berra was a devoted family man who wed Carmen Short in 1949, a happy marriage that lasted over 65 years. They had three sons but there is an interesting story about how Dale got his name.
When Carmen Berra was pregnant with Dale, she was sitting in the stands with Whitey Ford’s wife during game five of the 1956 World Series. Don Larsen was one out away from a perfect game and had to get pinch hitter Dale Mitchell for the final out. According to the story, Carmen told Ford’s wife that if Larsen gets this last out, they were going to name their son, Dale.
It wasn’t all “shangri-la” for the Berra family as the documentary touched on Dale’s drug problem in the early 1980’s when he played with the Yankees and his father was the manager. There is a clip of Dale publicly “coming clean” in front of an audience at the Yogi Berra Museum.
Of course, there are the “Yogisms,” that have been ingrained in the American lexicon. As Jeter said, “It makes a lot of sense.”
“When you get to a fork in the road, take it,” or “You can observe a lot by watching,” were just two of Berra’s famous sayings.
The title of the documentary itself is from the Yogism that was coined while he was the manager of the 1973 New York Mets. The Mets were involved in a race for the National League East division title and, at one point, their chances looked bleak when Yogi said, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.” The Mets went on to win the division and that Yogism transcended the sport of baseball.
It’s a remarkable story about a remarkable man. If you’re a Yankee fan or just a baseball fan, It Ain’t Over will leave you wanting more.
It Ain’t Over will open in theaters in the NY tri-state area and Los Angeles on May 12, what would be Yogi Berra’s 98th birthday. The documentary will expand to other markets in the ensuing weeks.