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Yogi Berra: the man behind baseball’s biggest catchphrases | baseball

When Yogi Berra joined the New York Yankees in the 1940s, he took his time with his looks. The Pinstripes were the premier organization in Major League Baseball, and their new backstop was said to be too ugly to be a Yankee. Still, he went on to have an exceptional career in MLB, first as a player and then as a manager, and consistently made quirky and often succinct remarks, including “It’s not over until it’s over” (although there’s some doubt if he ever made that sentence pronounced). A new documentary about Berra refers to this “yogi-ism” in its title – It Ain’t Over, directed by Sean Mullin.

The film is a sweet tribute to Berra, who died in 2015 at the age of 90. It recently had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and will also be screened at the Nantucket Film Festival which begins June 22nd. Berra’s granddaughter Lindsay Berra, who stars in the film, praises her grandfather’s reaction to teammates’ jokes about his looks.

“He had the hilarious response, ‘I’ve never seen anyone get their face punched,'” says Lindsay Berra. “I know he was really good at letting things roll off his back.”

Yogi-isms have become part of American culture, eight of which are included in the latest volume of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, more than any US President. Below: “Burglary? I’m not in a low. I just don’t hit.” As a pitchman for products from Yoo-Hoo to Aflac, he played with this persona, confusing the Aflac duck with statements like “and they give you cash that’s just as good as money”.

Panels in the film pair various yogis with sayings from other sages throughout history, from Confucius to Einstein. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” accompanies Robert Frost’s observation, “Two roads diverged in a forest, and I – I took the less traveled one.”

When asked which of her grandfather’s quotes are her favorites, Lindsay Berra says she likes the existential ones, like “The future ain’t what it used to be” and “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” She notes that the Berra family has embraced the philosophy of the fork in the road – originally a description of Montclair, New Jersey, where both forks in the road led to Yogi’s house. The family uses Berra’s spell as a reminder to stop procrastinating.

The family participated in the documentary and teamed up with Mullin, a West Point grad who served in the National Guard as a 9/11 first responder. At Ground Zero, he was the officer in charge for several months while doing stand-up comedy in the evenings. His varied career gave him perspectives. The film tries to present Berra beyond the quotes and other offbeat moments – like getting into a fight as a Yankees manager over a loud harmonica session on the team bus, or his concerns about the emergence of a certain cartoon character named Yogi Bear.

“It’s very personal to me,” Mullin says. “Society has a very hard time allowing someone to be both funny and good. You can be either one or the other… I was a standup comedian for a while, then I went to West Point. People didn’t know how to classify me. If you don’t fit into a box, people get nervous.”

Born Lorenzo Pietro Berra in 1925, he grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood of St. Louis. When Berra sat cross-legged and watched games, it invited comparisons to a yogi. During World War II, Berra took part in a dangerous operation for the Navy on D-Day. A devoted family man, he exchanged touching love letters with his wife, Carmen, whom he met while she was a waitress at Biggie’s Restaurant in St. Louis. The restaurant inspired his quote, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded,” while Yogi and Carmen’s 64-year marriage prompted him to reflect, “We’re together even when we’re not together.”

Yogi Berra lounges on one of the gifts he received during “Yogi Berra Day” before a game at Yankee Stadium in 1959. Photo: Olen Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images

As a player, Berra was indeed very good. His 1,430 RBIs are the most for a catcher. He excelled at hitting bad balls and coming through in the clutch. He and his Yankees teammate Joe DiMaggio are the only players to hit 350 or more home runs in their careers while striking fewer than 400 times. Berra won three American League MVP awards from 1946-1963 and a record 10 World Series titles. As the film notes, it spanned different eras of Yankees greatness, from Babe Ruth to DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle.

“To this day I still think he’s underrated as a player and I want the documentary to remind people how good he was,” says Lindsay Berra.

And not only his family testifies to his greatness. “We were fortunate to interview so many incredible people on the film,” says Mullin, who was particularly struck by one expert’s insight: “John Thorn is the official MLB historian and we have him on record… he says Yogi is the greatest catcher who ever played the game.”

Berra also thrived after his playing days. He added three championship rings as a coach — one with the New York Mets in the 1969 miracle season and two with the Yankees during their mid-1970s resurgence. As a manager, he competed in the World Series with two different teams, the 1964 Yankees and the 1972 Mets. While both lost, it was the 1972 Mets team’s rise to the National League pennant that spelled out another yogi-ism inspired – “You’re not out until it’s math” which evolved into “It’s not over until it’s over”. ”

Referring to Berra’s longtime manager with the Yankees, Lindsay Berra says, “One of the things Casey Stengel said about Grandpa was that he could fall down a sewer and find a gold watch … I know players loved playing for him and.” that he was really good at putting guys in positions to be successful.”

However, his second tenure as manager of the Yankees ended after just 16 games into the 1985 season when owner George Steinbrenner fired him through a subordinate. Berra’s son Dale was a player on that team. The release was a hard time for father and son. Yogi vowed never to visit Yankee Stadium again while Dale subsequently became involved in a drug scandal. Dale went drug free after a rough love affair with his father and published a memoir about his experiences. As for Yogi, he and Steinbrenner eventually reconciled, encouraged by team broadcaster Suzyn Waldman. As the reunion turned stormy, Carmen Berra intervened to defuse tensions. In 1999, Yogi ended a 14-year exile and returned to Yankee Stadium for Yogi Berra Day in the presence of World Series Perfect Game Pitcher Larsen. The result on the field? Another perfect game by Yankee David Cone against the Montreal Expos.

“I think Bob Costas put it best in the documentary,” says Mullin. “George Steinbrenner was a polarizing figure, but obviously he loved the Yankees and he loved Yogi, and their relationship was strained.” He adds, “Great stories involve difficult situations. I think how it turned out in the end was wonderful and for the best.”

How to summarize Yogi Berra? Well, with the Mets, he once noted that up-and-coming player Ron Swoboda was trying to hit like Frank Robinson. Yogi’s advice: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” Yogi Berra was truly inimitable.

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