Yogi Berra documentary 'It Ain't Over' is heartwarming portrait, painful reminder of Steinbrenner's worst

New York Yankees
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Yanks Go Yard was given access to an early screening of Sony Pictures Classics' Yogi Berra documentary "It Ain't Over" the evening before Opening Day 2023. The film will open in theaters in the Tri-State area and Los Angeles on May 12, which is Yogi’s 98th birthday.  The film will expand around the country in the ensuing weeks.

Yogi Berra's life was a quintessentially American love story. As a young boy in St. Louis, he was the most talented member of his sporting family, often finding ways out of hard labor in favor of playing a "kid's game" -- and playing it well. Despite his unconventional stature, he was actually pursued heavily by the woman he fell in love with; they were companions for nearly 70 years. He was a three-time MVP, 10-time World Series champion (as a player; he won five more pennants and three titles as a coach), and one of the obvious four greatest living players in baseball history at the time of his death in 2015.

And, yet, when he passed away, the AP report of his death called him "Yogi Bear" in the headline, confusing an American icon and war hero (whose job was dragging bloated bodies from the water at Normandy) with a cartoon galoot who loved sandwiches.

"It Ain't Over," the wonderful new documentary from writer/director Sean Mullin (with full participation from Yogi's granddaughter Lindsay Berra and, in a hilarious turn, two of his tipsy nieces holding wine glasses), lays out Berra's underdog story in narrative order, but makes very certain not to lean on his caricatures for comedic effect. Sure, his famed quotes are touched upon, but are mostly addressed in a running motif where his off-kilter wisdom is equated with famous, similar quotes from known geniuses like Shakespeare and Churchill. Additionally, former teammate Bobby Richardson acknowledges he really does avoid restaurants that are too crowded, and nobody he knows goes to them, either.

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Yogi Berra Documentary "It Ain't Over" Paints Heartwarming Portrait of Yankees History

The majority of the film focuses on humanizing an icon, from his battle with his own cartoonish reputation, to his failure to win a ring as a manager, to his son Dale's struggle with drug abuse, to his career's biggest pain point: George Steinbrenner firing him 19 games into a 162-game season, at which point he vowed to never return to Yankee Stadium.

Of course, after 15 years away, he finally received an apology from Steinbrenner that he deemed worthwhile, and walked back through the stadium's gates just in time for Yogi Berra Day in Summer 1999. A few hours later, that contest would be given a new name: David Cone's perfect game.

So many associated with the day are now gone. Yogi. Don Larsen. Announcers Tim McCarver and Bobby Murcer.

There is supposed to be a connection across generations. Sometimes, it doesn't present itself. For months at a time, the Yankee Stadium experience can feel entirely disconnected from worn-out woolen pinstripes and businessmen in suits playing World Series hooky. But then, sometimes, Yogi Berra blesses Joe Girardi's glove and a perfect game unfurls.

That's why Steinbrenner needed to keep Berra around. That oft chance.

As the 2023 season begins, once more, the Yankees will embark on a quest to harness the magic of their past. Watched in conjunction with Reggie Jackson's recent documentary on Amazon Prime -- which has the advantage of Reggie providing commentary, though at one point in "It Ain't Over," Berra's laugh in an archival interview syncs up perfectly with '50s footage to create a keen trick -- the two films paint a portrait of the dangers of the Yankees ignoring their past. Berra was once chased away by the elder Steinbrenner; by George's end, even Jackson had forgiven him, watching cowboy movies by his side. However, Jackson, too, has been shunted aside in recent years, hooking on with the Houston Astros, where he felt appreciated.

If the Yankees want to put their best foot forward in an attempt to earn championship No. 28, they'll pay homage to their heroes along the way. Naming Aaron Judge captain is a start. Learning life lessons from a man who was always smarter than the average Berra could cement their rise.