By C.J. Hirschfield
(May 17, 2023)
On July 14, 2015, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and Johnny Bench took to the field together at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, where they were recognized as the greatest living ballplayers.
Freelance sports journalist Lindsay Berra was shocked. Her grandfather, Yogi Berra, who played 19 seasons in Major League Baseball– all but the last for the New York Yankees–with more World Series rings than any of the other players combined, had been overlooked. Why? Because, she argues, his personality and his memorable quips, or “Yogi-isms,” overshadowed his record as a player.
Lindsay Berra turned her outrage at the slight in a very productive direction—she executive produced an excellent documentary film about her grandfather, which opens in theaters May 19.
Expertly directed by Sean Mullin, It Ain’t Over follows the rich life and brilliant career of a modest and kind man who deserves to be remembered not only as a hugely successful ballplayer, coach and manager, but as the war hero, champion of equality, and devoted family man that he was.
Helping tell his story is a parade of people eager to help paint a fuller picture of the man, including Jackie Robinson’s widow Rachel, former Yankee Derek Jeter, comedian Billy Crystal, as well as a range of players, broadcasters and family members.
Born to poor Italian immigrants in St. Louis, Berra first played ball with a stick and bottle caps. The way Lawrence Peter (Lorenzo Pietro) sat on the ground while waiting his turn at bat earned him the nickname that stuck with him for life.
The film explores his harrowing and heroic experience fighting in Normandy in WWII, his marriage to his lifelong love Carmen, and his legendary 14-year feud with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, after he was unceremoniously fired from his beloved Yankees. His triumphs as ballplayer, manager and coach are featured, and the film uses photographs, film clips, graphics and music to great effect
The media called him “a strange looking man,” but his engaging personality made him a natural for commercials, where he sold Yoo-Hoo soda, insurance, and even cat food. Advertisers were happy to amplify his clown-like image.
Apparently Berra was not amused by the appropriation of his name by Hanna-Barbera in reference to an animated bear living in Jellystone Park; it was just another example of the cartoon he’d become.
His famous Yogi-isms were quoted by presidents, and include “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” “You can observe a lot by watching,” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
It Ain’t Over allows us to really see and appreciate the person that Billy Crystal calls “a man who was wise about life; a genius,” and who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, the year of his death.
As Yogi Berra said, “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”
With Yogi Berra, we shouldn’t even try.
It Ain’t Over opens exclusively in theaters starting May 19.
Official website with list of where to see it.
C.J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry where she produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel and advocated on behalf of the industry. A former writer for Film Month, she also penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years and now writes features and reviews for EatDrinkFilms. C.J. holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.
Hirschfield currently serves on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film series showing free documentaries in Oakland and Piedmont, as well as on the advisory board of Youth Beat, a youth media training program that provides low-income Oakland students with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive in today’s workforce.
C.J. says, “A good documentary takes us places we never could never have imagined, and changes the way we see the world.”