Wednesday, 24 July 2024

‘It Ain’t Over’ a baseball lover’s dream documentary


The world of professional baseball has seen its share of players that are eccentric, or maybe just a little bit careening through outer space, like the 1970s Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee who was appropriately nicknamed “Spaceman.”

Then there was pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the 1979 Rookie of the Year, whose antics on the mound made him a fan favorite, as he would talk to the ball and manicure the mound on his hands and knees to his satisfaction.

What is it about pitchers, though? As a rookie with the Angels in 1962, Bo Belinsky became a celebrity for his no-hitter. But it seems his notoriety came from being linked with movie stars such as Ann-Margret, Connie Stevens and Mamie Van Doren.

Catcher for four teams, Bob Uecker gained his fame not as a player but as a broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers who moonlighted most famously as wacky broadcaster Harry Doyle for the woeful Cleveland Indians in “Major League,” one of the funniest sports movies ever.

While there are plenty of other interesting characters in baseball, none may be more entertaining and lovable than Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, who deserves to live on in our memories to this day not just for his Hall of Fame career, but for being an American folk hero.

You don’t have to be a New York Yankees fan to love the documentary “It Ain’t Over,” the story of catcher Yogi Berra, a native of St. Louis who signed with the Bronx team before serving with combat distinction in the Navy during World War II, including the Normandy landing.

The promo for this film calls the Yankees the “most storied franchise in Major League Baseball history.” You’ll get an argument on this point from teams such as the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, and especially from the Boston Red Sox, bitter rivals to that team in the Bronx.

No other player ended up with ten World Series rings, plus an additional three as a coach after his playing days. He was a three-time MVP in the American League, and had a staggering 18 All-Star Game appearances.

On top of these honors, Yogi went on to catch the only perfect game in World Series history in 1956 as the backstop for pitcher Don Larsen, when the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The documentary features commentary from well-known retired Yankees, such as manager Joe Torre, pitcher Ron Guidry, closer Mariano Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Don Mattingly and second baseman Willie Randolph.

No documentary would seem to be complete without commentary from baseball experts like the late Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, the late sportswriter Roger Angell, and sports announcer and commentator Bob Costas.

In anybody’s book, Yogi’s prolific accomplishments on the ballfield were overshadowed by his amazingly appealing personality, much of it fueled by his “Yogi-isms,” such as the most-famous “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

Part of the fun here is the juxtaposition of Yogi-isms with the famous words of scientists, playwrights, philosophers, and other learned folks.

Confucius claimed “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance,” while Yogi came up with: “In baseball, you don’t know nothing.”

The brilliant Stephen Hawking opined that “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect.” For Yogi, it made perfect sense to say “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

Maybe the most relevant contrast is Yogi’s “I’d be pretty dumb if all of a sudden I started being something I’m not,” compared to Shakespeare’s “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

A pivotal figure behind this documentary is Yogi’s oldest granddaughter Lindsay Berra, a freelance sports journalist, and the executive director of the film. She noted that Yogi, a man of short and squat stature, did not look like a Yankee.

Others said that no one thought he could hit and that he looked like a fire hydrant. As for Vin Scully, the broadcast legend found that everything about Yogi was “kinda funny.”

Fortunately, Lindsay Berra, along with Yogi’s sons Dale, Tim and Larry, paint the portrait of a devoted family man, particularly for the touching love story of his long and happy marriage to Carmen.

“It Ain’t Over” also does not shy away from the ugliness of Yogi abrupt firing as Yankee manager after only 16 games by the assistant to team owner George Steinbrenner, leading to a feud that lasted about a decade-and-a-half.

If as a baseball fan you hold any animus towards the Yankees, an appreciation of the life of Yogi Berra should transcend and overcome such negativity.

The legendary Yankee catcher is an iconic sports figure who is worthy of the homage that is paid by “It Ain’t Over.” Be sure not to miss it, wherever it may play or when it comes out on DVD or a streaming service.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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