NEW YORK — Lindsay Berra wanted grandpa Yogi remembered as a constant in Most Valuable Player voting before he was a regular in “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.”
“He played his last game on May 9, 1965, and then spent nearly 50 years making commercials and coaching and saying funny things on television,” she said. “If you’re under 50 years old, you have no recollection of grandpa as a player at all. But you’ve seen him on television your whole life, right? So I think it’s a recency bias.”
“It Ain’t Over,” a 98-minute documentary on Yogi Berra’s life, aims to elevate his playing career alongside his persona as a cultural icon. The Sony Pictures Classics film premiered last June at the Tribeca Festival and opens in theaters in the New York tri-state area and Los Angeles on Friday, which would have been Berra’s 98th birthday. Distribution expands to additional markets on May 19.
Producer Peter Sobiloff attended the Yogi Berra Museum Celebrity Golf Classic on June 11, 2018, a day after he saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the documentary on Fred Rogers. He asked Yogi’s sons if he could make a documentary about their dad.
Sobiloff called Sean Mullin, a director he worked with on the 2014 scripted film “Amira & Sam.” Mullin met with Berra’s sons that fall, got permission and raised the financing.
Lindsay, a daughter of Larry Berra, wasn’t originally involved.
“I met Sean a couple of months after that and just immediately started peppering him with texts and emails like: We got to get Vin Scully, you got to get Bobby Richardson, you got to get Tony Kubek, you got to get Héctor López, you got to get Roger Angell. And you’re a Hollywood person and you don’t know these people. You need me to get you these interviews, so let’s go!”
Shooting began at the May 2019 launch of Dale Berra’s book, “My Dad, Yogi: A Memoir of Family and Baseball.” Given the age of Yogi’s contemporaries, time was of the essence. Shooting was interrupted by the pandemic.
The opening gets to the point directly: Berra was missing when Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays were introduced as the greatest living players at the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, two months before Berra’s death at age 90. The so-called Franchise Four was determined by 25 million fan votes.
Lindsay was incensed.
Yogi was an 18-time All-Star — trailing only Aaron, Mays, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Cal Ripken Jr. Berra won three MVPs and finished among the top four in seven straight votes from 1950-56, behind only Mike Trout’s eight from 2012-19. Berra hit .285 with 358 homers and 1,430 RBIs and setting World Series records with 71 hits and 10 titles — plus three more rings as a coach.
But his post-playing work as a TV pitchman and quipster defined his image.
Sections are broken up with phrases Berra was known for, which he may or may not have actually said. Mullins lists them alongside famous quotes from Shakespeare, Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill and Plato and others, including: Albert Einstein’s “The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion” with “It’s déjà vu all over again;” and Robert Frost’s “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by” with “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
When Berra was managing the Mets during the 1973 NL East race, he said: “You’re not out of it until it’s mathematical.” That evolved to the famous phrase attributed to Berra, used in the movie’s title.
“There’s no definitive proof that he ever originated that exact phrase, but it didn’t matter because as with every other aspect of his life, the myth outgrew the facts,” Lindsay says in her narration.
Lindsay regrets there was no space in the movie for Phil Rizzuto or Whitey Ford. The melodramas of the Berra family were covered: the cocaine addiction of son Dale, a major leaguer caught up in the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials; and Yogi’s firing as Yankees manager by George Steinbrenner 16 games into the 1985 season and 14-year exile until peace was negotiated by broadcaster Suzyn Waldman.
Lindsay wound up becoming the movie’s executive producer and the narrator.
“They had thought it was going to be a Billy Crystal or Bob Costas-type person. And then I started doing my interviews and they just liked the way I told stories and how emotional I got when I was telling them,” she said. “And then they came to me and I was like: Are you insane? I’m not John Facenda from NFL Films, the deep, dramatic voice. I think some people will like it and find it endearing and charming, listening to a granddaughter who loves her grandfather and not a professional narrator. And other people will find it annoying.”
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports