Yogi in Full
A new documentary paints a full portrait of Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame ballplayer, witty celebrity and beloved grandfather
"You can observe a lot by just watching."
"It's like déjà vu all over again."
"It ain't over till it's over."
Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra's reputation as a lovable dispenser of sneakily clever malapropisms sometimes outshines his brilliance on the baseball diamond. In 19 seasons catching for the vaunted New York Yankees, Berra won the Most Valuable Player award three times, a rare achievement, and earned 10 World Series rings.
How many people, even casual baseball fans, remember?
Sean Mullin is about to remind them. It Ain't Over, Mullin's documentary on Berra, who died in 2015 at 90, is a heartwarming profile of Berra's life in full. The movie, currently in limited theatrical release, excels at showing that the lovable public personality and fiercely competitive player was also a devoted family man.
One of the film's most passionate sources (and defenders of Berra's baseball legacy) is the sports journalist Lindsay Berra, Yogi's eldest grandchild and an executive producer on the documentary.
Rediscovering Grampa Yogi
Over Zoom, Lindsay Berra, 45, sporting a "Yogi" T-shirt in Yankees' white and navy blue, spoke with Next Avenue about the impact her grandfather had on her life and how the documentary has brought her closer to him. This interview has been edited for clarity and space.
Next Avenue: Seeing your grandfather not recognized for his full body of work, did that affect how you look at people who were his age and older?
Lindsay Berra: I've always been a very curious, what's-your-story kind of person. My parents got divorced when I was five, and my grandmother and grandfather kind of became like second parents to me. I would go to a lot of places with them and meet a lot of people who were their age. You don't get to be 80 years old on this planet without having gone through some stuff.
So I would sit down with someone. Even when I was like 15, I'd be like, 'Where did you grow up? What did you do? What have you been doing for the last 80 years?' I don't think I ever really viewed someone as their current state. I always wanted to know where they came from.
My mother's father was an army captain who had two Purple Hearts. He was shot in the chest and went back out and then lost a leg in World War II. My grandfather's wooden leg was very much a constant reminder of all the places he had been before I entered his life. So I don't think I ever really looked at folks as dropping onto the planet at 72. (Laughs)
Lessons from My Grandparents
Spending so much time with your grandparents, how did that shape who you are now?
I say all the time I was really truly blessed and lucky. So many people lose their grandparents when they're [young], and they really only think of their grandparents as people they visit on the holidays, who slip cash into their back pockets when their parents aren't looking. That was not the relationship that I had with my grandparents.
I had my grandmother until I was 37, and my Grampa Yogi until I was 39. My mother's mom passed before I was born. And my mom's dad, the World War II vet, he died when I was 19. I wish I had had the opportunity to get to know them the way I got to know my grandparents — less as granddaughter and grandparent and more as equals and peers and friends.
You learn so much about where people came from. It just gives you a lot of perspective on how you move through the world and how you should treat people. You kind of understand that everybody comes to every situation with a whole list of stuff that you don't know about.
Working on this movie and now talking about it, has that changed how you view your grandparents?
I'm just more and more amazed by Grampa's reach. So many people either met him one time and had this interaction that somehow made an impact or who never met him but were still impacted and inspired by him in some way.
I can't tell you the thousands of people I've met who say, "Oh my God, you're Yogi Berra's granddaughter! I loved your grandfather!" And they mean love, l-o-v-e, in the same sense of the word as I mean it when I say I loved my grandfather. That's the thing that keeps amazing me: how many people actually loved him.
We always say that he was an example of how to live your life. The love he put into the world came back to him in spades. And it's making me tear up right now. That's an incredible thing to see and I'm reminded of that constantly talking about the film.
Has it been difficult to work on this movie and now to talk about it so much?
You saw I just teared up a little bit ago. It happens a lot. And I'm always surprised how close to the surface those emotions are. I'm not sad-crying. I love remembering them, so it's fine. It just makes me feel like they're still here, you know, which is nice.
Not many people have a deep relationship with their grandparents. To have that and for it to touch you so deeply, that's a real gift.
"We always say that he was an example of how to live your life. The love he put into the world came back to him in spades."
It is. This makes me sound like a crazy person, but since we're going here, I'll just tell you. The media schedule is nuts. There's a lot going on, and I have a real job. It's already difficult and we're just at the beginning.
A week ago, I was just really stressed out about the schedule, and I walked into my kitchen. We have one of those birdbath things that gets hot, doesn't freeze — my boyfriend's obsessed with the songbirds. So, I walk downstairs and there's a red male cardinal and a yellow female cardinal right outside our kitchen window on the birdbath looking at me. And I don't know if it's an Italian thing or a Catholic thing, but cardinals are dead people. They come back, that's a thing.
So to see the red cardinal and the female cardinal, the yellow one, together — you don't see that all that often just out in the neighborhood. And to have them there both, they were just looking at me. I was like, "Oh my God. Hi, guys." It was totally Grammy and Grampa telling me everything was gonna be OK. (Laughs.)