Producers: Peter Sobiloff, Mike Sobiloff, Natalie Metzger and Matt Mille   Director: Sean Mullin   Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Grade: B+

Sean Mullin’s documentary about Yogi Berra begins in an air of grievance as his granddaughter Lindsay (one of the prime interviewees, and an executive producer of the film as well as its narrator) describes her irritation—and his as well—over his exclusion from the 2015 “fans’ choice” recognition of the greatest living baseball players; Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Johnny Bench and Sandy Koufax were honored in a lavish ceremony at the All-Star Game that year as Yogi and Lindsay watched from the stands. 

Lindsay goes on to argue statistically that her grandfather definitely deserved to be among the honorees.  And over the course of the film a parade of other voices–Bob Costas, Roger Angell, Vin Scully, Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Joe Garagiola, Billy Crystal among them—enthuse over his extraordinary accomplishments over a long career as both a player who could hit even terrible pitches and a manager who worked a couple of miracles with teams from which little was expected.  A wealth of archival game footage proves the point, with perhaps the most famous—of Don Larsen’s no-hitter in the 1956 World Series—juxtaposed with the observation that the catcher is like the quarterback of his team, and that only one with an encyclopedic knowledge of the rival team’s roster (and a strong bond with his fellow player) can help guide the pitcher on how to handle each batter.    

As a portrait of Berra as a demonstrably great figure of baseball’s arguably golden age, “It Ain’t Over” is an easy winner.  But it doesn’t ignore the blips.  It enjoys recounting multiple times the still-unsettled debate over whether Jackie Robinson was safe or out when he stole home in the 1955 World Series (Berra, who fumed over the umpire’s call at the time, insisted Robinson was out to his dying day) and spends a good deal of time on Yogi’s self-imposed fourteen-year exile from Yankee Stadium after owner George Steinbrenner abruptly fired him as manager in 1985—through an intermediary, yet.  But Berra was also one of the few players who welcomed Robinson to the major leagues, and they remained close friends.  And when Steinbrenner finally apologized, Yogi came back to the park.   

As to why Berra doesn’t usually get his due, the film offers a few suggestions.  Yogi didn’t look like DiMaggio or Mantle—he was short and squat, looking more like a regular Joe than a muscled athlete.  His enthusiasm made him seem like a big kid, as when he jumped into Larsen’s arms at the conclusion of that no-hitter.  And, of course, he became famous for his Yogi-isms, apparently outlandish quips like the one the film takes as its title—some of which might actually have said.  And, of course, in his post-baseball days he became known not just as an ubiquitous pitchman for products like Yoo-Hoo, but was burdened with the goofiness of the cartoon character Yogi Bear, although creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera absurdly claimed the name was unrelated to his.  He was turned into a lovable stooge, and the perceived personality overshadowed the talent.

The documentary deals with all this, making particularly good use of the Yogi-isms as a transitional device, periodically putting them beside aphorisms from celebrated historical figures to demonstrate that if you think about it, they aren’t so dumb after all.

That’s connected with the other main element of Mullin’s film—Berra’s simple, genuine humanity.  Using archival material, it tells of his hardscrabble childhood, his naval service in World War II (he participated in D-Day, but didn’t apply for a Purple Heart so as not to worry his mother), his charming love affair and long, happy marriage to his wife Carmen, and his home life with his children and other relatives, who are also interviewed.  An especially poignant segment deals with his tough intervention with son Dale, himself a pro ball player, over his addiction to cocaine.  But space is also found for his membership in Athlete Ally, a group dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports.

In short, Yogi Berra wasn’t just a great ball player, he was by all accounts a great guy, and certainly not the naïve, clownish figure he’s become in the popular imagination.              

So after watching “It Ain’t Over,” which boasts nice newly-shot footage from cinematographers Danny Vecchione, Lowell A. Meyer and Kenneth F. Wales, an agreeable score by Jacques Brautbar and superb editing by Julian Robinson, you’ll probably decide that the sense of grievance with which the film began wasn’t so misplaced after all.  It’s not merely a loving tribute, but a solid argument for setting aside common misconceptions about the man and recognizing how sorely he’s been underrated.