Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Remembering Yogi Berra as a great player

Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, best known simply as Yogi, caught for the New York Yankees from 1946 to 1963, still banner years for baseball’s all-American popularity. The title of an engaging documentary about Berra, It Ain't Over, comes from one of the many Yogi-isms that have become part of popular lore, whether he said them or not. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”  Stubby or powerfully compact if you prefer, Yogi was a great baseball player who — according to the documentary — became a cartoon version of himself, so much so that his game skills have been overlooked. Berra won three MVP awards and owned 10 World Series Championship rings. He caught the only perfect game in World Series history, Don Larsen’s 1956 triumph against the Brooklyn Dodgers. A St. Louis native,  Berra made his splash in the Big Apple until he got crosswise with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. In 1985, Steinbrenner fired Yogi, at the time the team's manager. Annoyed by shabby treatment, Berra stayed away from Yankee Stadium for 15 years. Berra, who died in 2015 at the age of 90, monetized his lovable side with commercials for Yoo Hoo, Miller Lite, and Aflac. The animated hit “Yogi Bear” never won his favor. Director Sean Mullin includes interviews with some of the usual suspects, notably Billy Crystal and Bob Costas. Some Yankee favorites chime in. Among them: Tony Kubrick, Willie Randolph, and Mariano Rivera. Lindsay Berra, Yogi’s granddaughter, boldly states the documentary's theme: Berra’s on-the-field accomplishments have been overlooked. She keynotes the argument by noting that Berra wasn’t included in a 2015 All-Star Game ceremony honoring a quartet of great living players; Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. Mullin includes a highlight reel’s worth of baseball footage, and enough Yogi-isms to satisfy. Some may wonder exactly how the prowess of a Hall of Fame player can be said to have been overlooked but the movie’s thesis is less important than the way it brings Berra to life and once again recalls the days when baseball really was the national pastime.*

*If you were a kid living in the shadow of New York City, in my case northern New Jersey, during the 1950s,  questions of identity revolved around three possibilities. Did you root for the NY Giants,  Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Yankees? I was a Giants fan and like many of those who rooted for National League teams I hated the imperial Yankees with their massive stadium and conquering ways. Reflecting on it, though, I can’t recall anyone who disliked Yogi Berra. He was a Yankee, sure, but as a likable guy, a great catcher, and a terrific clutch hitter, even Yankee haters gave him a pass. 

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