Movie Review: The wit, heart and soul of Yogi Berra, baseball giant

With a load of family love and cooperation, the documentary “It Ain’t Over” celebrates the accomplishments of St. Louis-born, New York Yankees-bred Lawrence “Yogi” Berra (1925-2015), whose talent for phrasemaking and so-called Yogi-isms had a nagging tendency to outshine his slugging and catching and managing prowess.

Problem was, he said a lot of memorably funny things, though he was no comedian and the furthest possible distance from anyone’s idea of an insult comic. Berra exemplified heart, just like the song from “Damn Yankees” put it. He was an authentic delight with a big, generous ticker, given to aphorisms and words of wisdom such as:

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

“You can observe a lot just by watching.”

With material like that (though a lot of the Yogi-isms came from ad copywriters and sportswriters and the like), already you’re in legend territory, even without Berra’s actual, formidable statistics on the diamond. The best of the Berra lines transcended punchlines, albeit some great ones on the order of, “Ninety percent of baseball is mental. The other half is physical.” They’re eloquent pretzel-logic pearls of wisdom.

Yogi-isms inevitably take up a certain amount of writer-director Sean Mullin’s engaging doc, hosted and voice-overed by sports columnist, broadcaster and sports and fitness expert Lindsay Berra, the oldest of Yogi’s 11 grandchildren. During the 2015 MLB All-Star Game, Berra and her grandfather watched the “greatest living players” presentations chosen by fan vote, honoring Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and Johnny Bench.

The stats spoke for themselves: Only Joe DiMaggio and Berra hit more than 350 homers and struck out fewer than 500 times across their respective careers. Berra sported 10 World Series rings. New York and most of America loved the guy. Like Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, another crucial, compact emblem of 20th-century New York life, Berra’s humble stature belied the wiles so many underestimated.

As broadcaster and MLB veteran Vin Scully says in the film, he represented “the stickball kids in the street.” Both Scully and New Yorker writer Roger Angell died last year; interview footage of both men waxing rhapsodic about Berra is included here. Angell’s deft shorthand description of the man: “Everything about Yogi was round … the whole structure was circular.”

The movie itself is more of a square than a circle — straightforward and honorific, peppered with old and newer archival footage. The dugout and backroom melodrama of Berra’s up-and-down-and-up career rises occasionally to operatic heights, as the soundtrack pumps it up with music from “The Magic Flute” or the “Peer Gynt Suite.” Yet Berra’s ground-level appeal keeps the documentary from getting too full of itself.


3 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: PG (for smoking, some drug references, language and brief war images)

Running time: 1:38

How to watch: Now in theaters