Yogi Berra documentary shows the St. Louis native was more than just baseball
Lindsay Berra believes her grandfather deserves more respect for his career as a catcher for the New York Yankees.
That’s one of the themes behind a new documentary on St. Louis native Yogi Berra.
“It Ain’t Over” explores the baseball Hall of Famer’s career, his place in American culture and the love story with his longtime wife, Carmen.
Lindsay Berra is an executive producer of the Sean Mullin-directed documentary. Both sat down with St. Louis Public Radio’s Wayne Pratt to talk about the project and Yogi. (Edited for length and clarity)
Wayne Pratt: I want to channel my inner baseball geek.
Lindsay Berra: Sure. Let’s geek out!
Pratt: That 1950 season. He hit .322, 28 home runs and 124 runs batted in, but what I think is the most impressive is 12 strikeouts in nearly 600 at-bats. You would think those numbers would elevate his reputation among the baseball pundits, so to speak.
Berra: It's crazy because you would expect that baseball people, that the stat geeks, would think of him more often up in the top levels of catchers and of players of all time.
Pratt: And you did talk to some baseball people in the documentary who have somewhat of a knowledge of the game.
Bob Costas: He has one of the greatest World Series resumes of any player ever.
Vin Scully: Yogi was representing, not the big guys, but he was representing kind of us, the stickball kids in the street.
Billy Crystal: He was a giant. I mean, he was the most overlooked superstar in the history of baseball.
Pratt: So Sean, when you hear a cut like that, what makes you think about Yogi?
Sean Mullin: Well, I was thinking about those interviews actually. How great it was to sit down with those luminaries and discuss another luminary, Yogi. But as far as stats go with Yogi, my favorite stat that's not in the film, there are only two players in the history of baseball to finish in the top four of MVP voting seven years in a row: Yogi Berra and Mike Trout. He's not normally thought of in that kind of echelon of player.
Pratt: There's a couple more baseball moments I want to talk about. The 1956 perfect game by Don Larsen. How much did he talk about that?
Berra: He didn't bring it up so much on an everyday basis, but he was interviewed about it very often. So I heard him talk about it a lot. Grandpa calls that game, and Don does not shake him off in 97 pitches. Tony Kubeck says in the documentary it should be called the Larson-Berra perfect game because Grandpa was really the architect of that day.
Pratt: Another World Series game. It's against the Dodgers. Jackie Robinson is on third base and he takes off ...
Announcer: Yankee catcher Yogi Berra roars in protest, but Jackie Robinson has stolen home. The most exciting moment in World Series history.
Pratt: I'm under the impression after seeing the documentary that he never got over that call.
Berra: No, it was so funny. It would crack me up. We would be out in public somewhere and someone would come up to Grandpa and want to ask him about that, and they would get the first syllable of Jackie's name out. They would go, “Was Ja?” and Grandpa would go, “Out! He was out!
I like to take a 30,000-foot view of that play. And it doesn't really matter whether Jackie was safe or out, what matters is that he was in. I think that if baseball doesn't integrate the country doesn't get where it's going with the Civil Rights Movement. I was always very proud of Grandpa for his position and kind of how he helped with the integration of baseball just by not saying no.
Pratt: And that extended into other areas as well where he was an ally for several groups.
Berra: He didn't really care who you were, where you were from, what you looked like. He just cared what you brought to the table. Later in Grandpa's life, he did become an LGBTQ ally because it's the right thing to do.
Pratt: Sean, when this project first came to your mind - How am I going to do this? Where's the drama? It came across to me like a love story on several levels.
Mullin: Well, absolutely. I mean, love is what it's all about, right? That's why we're all here.
So you know, I wanted to find a way to really showcase the extraordinary love that Yogi had definitely for his wife, Carm. They had a 65-year relationship that was really just incredible.
Pratt: How do you think his upbringing here on the Hill in St. Louis impacted the rest of his life?
Berra: I think it gave him a tremendous work ethic. The Hill really shaped who he was.
He was a St. Louis fan his entire life. He watched more Cardinals games than Yankee games. He came back here whenever he had a chance. And cousin Mary Francis, who's my aunt, Grandpa's sister, Josie's daughter still lives in the house on the Hill. So, the Berra roots are still very firmly here in St. Louis.
Pratt: “It Ain't Over” had its St. Louis debut recently. Director Sean Mullin and executive producer Lindsay Berra, Yogi Berra's granddaughter, thank you both for your time.
Berra: Thanks so much for having me. Go to the movies, folks.
Mullin: Please bring everyone.