Below a comprehensive rundown of every catcher in MLB history to accrue at least 350 home runs and 60 WAR, as measured by FanGraphs:
Yogi Berra (358 HR, 63.7 fWAR)
Johnny Bench (389 HR, 74.8 fWAR)
Carlton Fisk (376 HR, 68.3 fWAR)
Mike Piazza (427 HR, 62.5 fWAR)
That’s the complete list.
This is just one measure of many that tags Yogi Berra as one of the greatest to ever crouch down behind the plate, and almost certainly the best from MLB’s first century of play. Since neither Fisk nor Piazza are considered to be in the same echelon as Yogi with the glove, the argument for baseball’s all-time catcher boils down to Berra or Bench. He was that good.
And yet, the majority of sports fans best know Berra from his signature Yogiisms. You could make an inner-circle four* of them, too:
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
“No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
“You can observe a lot by watching.”
“It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”
*These are just my favorites. Don’t @ me.
Berra’s legacy stretched beyond the Yogiisms too, to the Yogi Bear cartoon that was undoubtedly inspired by him to the many commercials he did after his playing career ended where he leaned into his expressions for the joke.
But as a new documentary, “It Ain’t Over,” argues, we shouldn’t let Yogi the character overshadow Yogi the man because — as I’ve also said before — Yogi the man was incredible. This was a hero who was on the ships at Normandy during D-Day and injured on active duty but declined to fill out Purple Heart paperwork because he didn’t want to worry his mother. This was an outstanding baseball player whose career coincided with the game’s integration and always carried the utmost respect for everyone he shared a field with when many were not nearly as welcoming (to say the least). This was a dearly devoted family man who went to great lengths to help his son overcome addiction.
The list goes on and on, and “It Ain’t Over” delves into quite a few stories in the process. Several living members of Berra’s family were interviewed, as were former teammates (some of whom sadly passed before the doc was finished), friends, writers, announcers, and even the late great Vin Scully. Archival interviews with Berra himself and hometown pal/fellow player/broadcaster Joe Garagiola were used as well, including very old clips with Edward R. Murrow. They all weave a wonderful story of the legend’s long life, from his youth in St. Louis to his Yankees days, his feud with George Steinbrenner, and his lasting impact.
If I had a nitpick, it would be that one of the framing devices of the story features something that I had forgotten about entirely. When Yogi was still alive back in 2015, MLB did an event at the All-Star Game where they honored the four greatest living players, as voted by fans between April 8th and May 5th of that year: Bench, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax. The documentary seems frustrated that Berra wasn’t among the quartet and uses comparisons of MVP award wins, All-Star Game appearances, and World Series rings to argue that he belonged, if not outshining them entirely.
To that, I say... it was a fan vote. These things happen. To say nothing of the collective team accomplishment of World Series rings, MVP wins are votes, too, and honestly, both Mays and Aaron should’ve won more than a combined three. Hell, there’s an argument that they should have 5-10 more, and Mays in particular has a case as the greatest player in baseball history. Honestly, I don’t think that even Yogi would suggest that he was a better player than them. Regarding Koufax, I personally think he’s a bit overrated in the pitching conversation writ large, but at least one pitcher was going to be picked. And for Bench, look, the All-Star Game was in Cincinnati. Even if you were ride-or-die for Yogi, you’d probably say that it was a push between those two for the best catcher in the game’s history. Tiebreaker goes to the hometown; if that game was in the Bronx, we’d be a touch miffed to see Bench over Berra, too.
Still, this is a small note. The 2015 All-Star snub pops up in parts of the documentary, but it’s not the real point of the entire endeavor. A deep admiration of Yogi the person lingers throughout, and it just wants you to remember everything that his life stood for whenever you think of those Yogiisms, visit the museum that bears his name, or simply walk by a pinstriped No. 8. The man was worth all that and more.
We’ll be referencing Yogi Berra for decades to come, long after he left us. His legacy should mean more than a few funny quotes.
Sony Pictures Classics will release Sean Mullin’s Yogi Berra documentary, “IT AIN’T OVER,” in New York tri-state and Los Angeles theaters on May 12, 2023 before expanding over the following weeks.
The film is directed by Sean Mullin, produced by Natalie Metzger, p.g.a., Matt Miller, p.g.a., Peter Sobiloff, and Mike Sobiloff with Vanishing Angle and Off Media, and executive produced by Lindsay Berra. It made its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in the Spotlight Documentary section.