"It Ain't Over" Review
By Bob Lefsetz
Special To Start Spreading the News
Chapter 1: Baseball came before music. I know there are people who are older, who lived through the advent of not only Elvis, but Bill Haley. But I was not born, or even aware back then. By time I came of age, there were novelty songs, like "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," Elvis was a has-been that we pooh-poohed and we were yet to be aware of the history of rock and roll, our eyes were opened when our heroes started to talk about their influences. We were addicted to baseball. Now let me be clear, we played basketball, but when the Knicks came to my summer camp, no one was excited. As for hockey...you might have a stick, but no one got up at the crack of dawn for ice time and there were only a handful of teams in the NHL and the only reason you knew anything about them was because the games were one of the few things to watch when you were home on Saturday night. As for football... New York had a great team, the Giants, we watched the blacked-out games on a fuzzy UHF station from New Haven, but the NFL was not front of mind, the first two Super Bowls were even kind of a dud. Then came Namath and the Jets and seemingly overnight it became about football. But before that... Funny to think that our heroes were ballplayers. Who didn't make anywhere near the kind of money today's athletes do. Who were indentured servants to their teams. Mickey Mantle eventually made a 100k but that's not what endeared him to us. It was the history, the long home runs. And the knees. And the osteomyelitis. We knew everything, even that his father was a miner. They say that young players don't have a sense of the history of the game. I've seen evidence of that, but it's a different game. Back then, baseball players were national heroes. And baseball was like music in that it happened in the game first, and it made all the difference. Integration. The opening up of the west coast... We couldn't wait for the season to start. We knew that the Yankees had switched spring training to Fort Lauderdale. We hated the Red Sox, who weren't so good anyway. Then again, when Carl Yastrzemski had his triple crown year, who couldn't admire that? And opening day wasn't something you overpaid to be at, but you were even more excited at home, the season had begun, spring was in the air, eventually summer, and then... The World Series. All the buzz is about the Miami Heat, how they're going to make the NBA finals having barely made the playoffs. Used to be different, either you won the pennant or you didn't. If you led the league you were entitled to go to the Series. Which was held in early October. No cold November nights. As a matter of fact, no nights at all. The World Series games were played in the afternoon, we ran home to hopefully catch the last inning or two. And you could remember who won the year before, it wasn't an endless morass of sports playoffs to the point where it all became a wash. We had baseball cards. They came with crappy bubblegum, I personally preferred Juicy-Fruit, and five cards. And you never knew what you would get. You wanted stars, you wanted members of your team, but you had to trade or flip for those. And we had no idea the cards had any commercial value. We kept them in a big plastic bag and would go to a friend's house for the afternoon... Binders? Are you kidding? And sure, many wanted to keep the cards in good shape, and those who did not were looked down upon, but no card was too good to be in your pile, no card was set apart, they were all fair game, in your bag together. And we studied them. You'd be stunned at all the baseball statistics boomers can rattle off. They were on the backs of the cards. And then there were annuals. And the programs when you went to the game. And the first game I went to was in the spring of 1961 and... It was the five of us, my father Moe and me, and Harry Sheketoff and Michael and Alan. We sat in the lower deck of Yankee Stadium, on the first base side, you wanted to be on the first base side, on a sunny afternoon, for a game that went into extra innings. Fourteen in fact. At the bottom of that inning, with a man in scoring position, Yogi Berra came up to pinch-hit. And Yogi hit a single up the right field line, ran to first base and then straight to the dugout. I didn't get it. Why didn't he continue? But the man had scored, the game was over, we had to wait for the second game of the doubleheader to begin. We only stayed for a few innings, we had to meet up with "the girls," but I was not happy, I wanted to stay to the end, and every other time we did. I even went to the Yankee game on my birthday. You started off with big birthday parties and then boiled it down to how many could fit in a car and we all went to the game and... For a boy who grew up without brothers, it was meaningful. And I know all of the above, but...it all came flashing back watching "It Ain't Over."
*** Chapter 2 Ostensibly, "It Ain't Over" is about making the case that Yogi Berra was a superstar and has not gotten his due. The flick starts off with footage honoring the four greatest living baseball legends and he's not one of them. But you've got to know, Yogi was in a class by himself, because he was on the YANKEES! And the Yankees always won. Until they didn't. But by then Yogi wasn't playing anymore. You expected the Yankees to be in the Series. And you expected them to win, which they didn't always do. And in addition to Mantle there was Maris, and their 1961 home run duel. But also "Moose" Skowron on first. This was back when ballplayers had nicknames, when kids had nicknames, when Robert was "Bobby" and David was "Davy" and Andrew was "Andy" and... It was loose. And the game was flooded with immigrants, or the descendants thereof, and there was a cornucopia of names and there was a sense of birth, of our time being now, that was the sixties. And Bobby Richardson on second... He's in the movie. Wow! He was the clean-cut one, the choir boy, the one who caught that line drive to win the Series. He's Bobby, but older. He's a person. We never saw them as people, they were the other. Far different from today's social media world that equalizes everybody. Sure, actors were movie stars, but that was all based on mystery and charisma, everybody knew they didn't write the lines. But the ballplayers lived and died on their performance. We knew who was in a streak and who was in a slump. We read the box score every single day. We tacked up the schedule to our wall. We knew when the team was here or away. And we listened on our transistors. That was their first use. Under the pillow. Late at night. So we were ready when the Beatles arrived in '64, we had our radios. So what we've got here is blue chip footage from back in the day. When most people still watched the games in black and white. When they were aired for free in your local market. Before there was even a Game of the Week on network. And from the early days, there's a plethora of black and white film footage, from historical games that we know about, even if we weren't even conscious at the time. Like the perfect game in '56, Yogi jumping into Don Larsen's arms. And even the Babe and... Wow, I go numb just thinking about it. Because those were my days, kind of like the theme song from "All in the Family," which I barely ever saw, going to college without television and then being on the road thereafter. We were just growing up, we saw everything as natural. We'd get gloves by the time we were five. We'd beg our parents for an upgrade. We knew the brands, the models. And we had our own bat. Mostly Adirondack, even though the pros used Hillerich & Bradsby Louisville Sluggers. And after coming home from school and changing into our play clothes we'd ride our bike to the diamond, where there'd be a pickup game. Sometimes there weren't enough people for a game, so we had hitting practice or played Home Run Derby, but... We were out there, sans supervision, it was part of life. As was Little League. There was no t-ball. Most parents were not involved, never mind arguing with the umps. We knew it wasn't serious, but to us it was everything.
*** Chapter 3 Eventually they hit the Steinbrenner years, the war with Yogi. The reconciliation years later. But now Steinbrenner is more famous for "Seinfeld." George brought the team back but few felt good about it, many had switched their allegiance to the Mets. Upstarts featuring the great Tom Seaver. Gone now too. And Yogi had a twenty year career, not uncommon back then. If you were good, you spent a year after high school in the minors, then you flew right up to the majors. And if you were good you lasted, and lasted... Usually traded at the end of your career, but not Yogi. Who I also knew from Yoo-hoo. My father owned a liquor store, I could have as much as I wanted. And I remember others endorsed the drink, like Gil McDougald, who was basically done by time I came of age. Kids loved chocolate back then, we had powder we put in our milk to change the flavor. And syrup too. And honestly, Yoo-hoo didn't taste that great, but it was still cool... So the movie switches from Yogi's playing days to his coaching and managing days. And you've got to know, back then most players fully retired. They were gone when they retired from the game. Somehow Yogi seemed entitled to continue. And he did. Until George got in the way. And the second half of the movie is great. But the first half, the playing days, are FANTASTIC! A lot of time has gone by. Sixty years, in fact. That world no longer exists. But unlike previous generations, there's film, there's data, history can be recalled. And the flick makes a great case for Yogi's greatness. But we already knew that. But it's great to see Yogi get his due, for those who may not have lived in the New York area, or might have been young or unborn back then. When the Boys of Summer were baseball players, before they became the subject of Roger Kahn's book, before they became the basis of a legendary Don Henley song. But Henley knows. We all know. It's part of what makes us who we are. And it's all there up on the screen. It all happened. And we were there.