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Review: ‘It Ain’t Over’ sets record straight for Yogi Berra

Serving as a potent reminder of the stellar athletic ability that, in time, had been overshadowed by his admittedly outsized personality, the affectionate “It Ain’t Over” offers a winning coda to the career assessment of the late, great Yogi Berra.

Filmmaker Sean Mullin, armed with an archival treasure trove of evidence and testimonials from a slew of admirers both on and off the diamond, makes a fairly irrefutable case for the New York Yankees catcher who became better known for such Yogi-isms as “When you come to a fork in the road, take it” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Born Lorenzo Pietro Berra to an Italian immigrant family that had settled in St. Louis, Yogi, who stood at a squat-framed height of 5 feet, 7 inches, certainly didn’t fit the mold of the conventional, tall, lean, All-American, golden-haired baseball player.

While his appearance would prompt Joe DiMaggio to ask, “Who’s this guy? He looks like a fire hydrant!” the clutch hitter in question, whose bat seldom met a pitch it didn’t like, would go on to collect three MVP awards and 10 World Series Championship rings as a New York Yankee — one for each of his stubby fingers.

He’d follow his catching career with two stints as a Yankees manager — the second of which ended 16 games into the season with his abrupt firing by George Steinbrenner. Berra once summed up his not-always-cordial relationship with the controversial Yankees owner as “We agree different,” prior to a resulting 15-year rift during which Berra refused to set foot in Yankee Stadium.

But even baseball non-fans of a certain age likely recall Berra as a lovable commercial mascot, memorably pitching everything from Yoo Hoo to Miller Lite to Aflac.

He was less gung-ho about Hanna-Barbera’s pic-a-nic basket-swiping Yogi Bear, first introduced in 1958 when Berra was at the height of his playing career, and wouldn’t have been pleased when the Associated Press announced Berra’s 2015 passing at age 90 with the actual, and hastily corrected, headline, “New York Yankees Hall of Fame Catcher Yogi Bear has died.”

It’s all enthusiastically and endearingly documented by writer-director Mullin, who relies upon Berra’s three sons, Tim, Larry and Dale, and granddaughter Lindsay to set the record straight, as well as a passionate cheering section including Billy Crystal, Derek Jeter, Bob Costas, Don Mattingly, Joe Torre, and Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.

Of course, it would be impossible to mention Berra without references to those classic Yogi-isms, of which no less than eight made it into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The film finds room for many of them, including the one that started out as “You’re not out of it until it’s mathematical” and eventually morphed into “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Witnessing Berra’s colorful life play out alongside Carmen, his wife of 65 years who predeceased him by a year, it’s entirely understandable why more than one of those assembled start to choke up while paying their respects directly into the camera at the end of the documentary.

No matter how he said it or played it, there was never anyone in baseball quite like Yogi Berra.

‘It Ain’t Over’

Rated: PG, for smoking, some drug references, language and brief war images.

Running Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Playing: Starts May 12 at AMC Century City; AMC Burbank 16; and Laemmle Royal, West L.A.

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