Yogi Berra documentary review: It celebrates the Yankees legend’s wit and wisdom

yogi-berra-documentory-new-york-yankees
John Allen
Saturday May 13, 2023

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When most people hear the name Yogi Berra, they probably remember one of his famous quotes such as “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” his appearances in humorous commercials, or even a cartoon bear named after him who loves to steal picnic baskets.

The famed Yogi Berra quote has now inspired a documentary that runs for 98 minutes. Entitled “It Ain’t Over” and directed by Sean Mullin and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, it offers a complete and emotional picture of the man behind the persona. The film provides an intimate and insightful portrayal of Yogi Berra, going beyond the common stereotypes and witty phrases associated with the sports legend.

“It’s very important to me to keep Grandpa’s legacy alive,” said Lindsay Berra, Yogi Berra’s oldest grandchild. “Most important to me is to have people remember truly what a great baseball player he was because I feel that a lot of his on-the-field accomplishments have been eclipsed by the Yogi-isms and the fact he was this short, kind of funny-looking guy later in life.”

The documentary “It Ain’t Over” was screened in over 100 movie theaters in the New York tri-state area and Los Angeles on Friday, which would have been Yogi Berra’s 98th birthday. A week later, the documentary will open in various cities across the country. It trailer was released two months ago.

A true presentation of Yogi Berra

The film starts with a scene from the 2015 All-Star Game ceremony where Yogi Berra was introduced along with Henry Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax, and Willie Mays, some of baseball’s greatest living players. In the scene, Lindsay Berra, Yogi Berra’s granddaughter, nudges him and jokingly asks if he is already dead. Yogi Berra responds with his signature humor, saying, “Not yet.”

The documentary “It Ain’t Over,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, took over four years to make and explores Yogi Berra’s life story. It starts with his early days growing up in “The Hill,” a working-class neighborhood in St. Louis.

Yogi Berra began his journey from The Hill, a working-class neighborhood in St. Louis, and went on to achieve great success, including 10 World Series championships, three American League Most Valuable Player Awards, and 18 All-Star selections.

Yogi Berra is at plate on Oct 6, 1950, and honored by the U.S. Navy in 2014.

In 1944, Yogi Berra was stationed on a rocket boat off the coast of Normandy to serve his country. In 1956, he caught the only perfect game in World Series history, and in 1972, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He said more than famous quotes like, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” or “No one goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

“Ultimately, my goal is for audiences to laugh a little, learn a little and maybe even tear up a bit — all while recognizing that Yogi was one of baseball’s all-time greatest players,” said Mullin, “despite society’s unwillingness to view him as anything other than a caricature.”

Many of baseball’s best players, like Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Mariano Rivera, Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi, Tony Kubek, Ron Guidry, and Nick Swisher, were interviewed for the documentary. Also included are Billy Crystal, Bob Costas, Suzyn Waldman, and Vin Scully, as well as pictures and eye-opening old videos from on and off the field.

Lindsay Berra expressed her desire for people to develop a newfound appreciation for her grandfather’s on-field accomplishments, stating that Yogi Berra was not only an exceptional baseball player, but also a remarkable human being. She further added that despite his outstanding talent, he never considered himself superior to others, which is a rare quality among our idols.

During a Q&A session with the director of the documentary “It Ain’t Over”, which tells the story of the famous New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, a member of the audience raised his hand to ask a question after a recent screening.

“I hate the Yankees,’’ the man said, “but I loved the movie.’’

Yogi Berra’s magic still has charms

Similar to Yogi Berra’s personality, the movie is endearing and likable.

The documentary effectively captures the essence of Yogi Berra’s character through various elements such as black-and-white film clips, archival footage, and interviews with notable figures like Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, and Billy Crystal, showcasing his wit, warmth, and significance.

Despite being mocked for his looks, Yogi Berra didn’t take it to heart. He served in the military and stood up against discrimination. He also won an impressive 10 World Series championships, and three MVP awards, and won the heart of his wife Carmen, whom he was married to for 65 years.

In addition, as a Yankees catcher, he achieved impressive stats that earned him a place in the Hall of Fame. He also had a knack for delivering memorable quotes, such as “You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours,” and perhaps his most well-known, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’’

The appeal of Yogi Berra continues, even after his passing in 2015 at 90 years old, and director Sean Mullin gives his life the proper recognition it deserves in the film. The documentary will premiere on Friday in New York and Los Angeles and will be released in theaters nationwide by June 16th.

“Yogi was about so much more than baseball,’’ Mullin told USA TODAY Sports. “His life was defined by so much more than that.”

The inspiration for the documentary

In 2018, Peter Sobiloff, a movie producer, was inspired by the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about Mr. Rogers and thought about making a similar film about Yogi Berra. Sobiloff knew two of Berra’s sons from playing in the Yogi Berra Museum golf outing for several years and gained their approval to go ahead with the project.

After getting the support and approval of two of Yogi Berra’s sons, movie producer Peter Sobiloff contacted Sean Mullin, a documentary specialist, and West Point graduate, to direct the film. Despite the lack of funding from a major production company, Mullin accepted the project because he admired Yogi Berra’s story. He followed Berra’s advice and took the independent route to raise the necessary funds to make the film.

Said Mullin, “It was all just us going around to friends and friends of the family and saying, ‘Hey, if you believe in us, if you believe in the project, give us some money and we think we’ll be able to sell this.’ ”

After four years of work, the Yogi Berra documentary was showcased in front of 1,000 people at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2022, where it received a standing ovation. Three months later, Sony Pictures purchased the film.

Why it opted for Lindsay Berra

At first, Crystal or Costas were considered potential narrators for the documentary. However, the role was ultimately given to Yogi’s granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, who is 45 years old.

“As soon as I met her I was like, ‘Wow, this is a force of nature,“ Mullin said. “About a third of the way through the shooting, I made the decision she would be the narrator.’’

Said Lindsay Berra, “I was horrified when I first heard the idea. But I think that it has worked out in the sense that I get a little forgiveness from audiences because it’s endearing that I’m a granddaughter who loves her grandfather.’’

Lindsay Berra’s affection for her grandfather is evident as she recalls memories of him. Her parents got divorced when she was 5, and her grandparents became like a second set of parents to her. She recalled a memory of decorating the Christmas tree when she was little enough for her grandfather to lift her up to put ornaments up high.

Additionally, Lindsay Berra also recalls fond memories of playing games like whiffle ball, touch football, and croquet with her grandfather, which further highlights their close relationship. Now, she is narrating the story of his life in the documentary.

Lindsay Berra, who used to work as a sports writer, expressed her thoughts about her grandfather, saying that if Yogi Berra were still alive, he would have been amazed that a movie about him was being shown in theaters all over the country. She also mentioned that Yogi Berra, being a first-generation Italian immigrant who did not consider himself someone extraordinary, came from humble beginnings and would have been surprised by the attention the documentary was getting.

The star cast show

Mullin successfully convinced each of the prominent baseball figures to participate in the film, one by one. He aimed to find a person who was not a former Yankees player but still admired Yogi Berra. His top choice was Crystal, the renowned comedian, and actor who was raised in New York as a passionate Yankees fan and was a school student during Yogi Berra’s heyday.

The plans were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, Mullin was eventually able to film an interview with Crystal in the backyard of his Southern California home. The interview went on for more than 90 minutes.

“Just had this incredible experience where he talked about just growing up and having Yogi be really the heart and the soul of the Yankees and just his adoration for him,’’ Mullin said. “I could probably just export that whole hour and a half and make that a film it was so good.

“Once I left the Billy Crystal interview, I just had the gut feeling that we had a movie.’’

With the upcoming nationwide release of the documentary, one of Yogi Berra’s famous sayings that seem fitting is, “You can see a lot just by observing.”

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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One thought on “Yogi Berra documentary review: It celebrates the Yankees legend’s wit and wisdom

  1. I was fortunate to see Yogi play when I was a kid in NYC. I look forward to the documentary either in the theater (I live in Michigan now so not likely?) or when it becomes available at home.

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