When PBS aired Ken Burns' epic history of Baseball in 1993, people were fascinated by how the history of the game reflected America. It reintroduced modern fans to the greats from Ty Cobb to Willie Mays and everyone in between . And...it made Buck O'Neill a star
Last year, Burns announced he would make a tenth inning to cover what has happened up to today. Considering that he'd have to look at the 1994 strike, steroids, and how 9-11 impacted the game, he'd have a tall order. It's already been previewed in special events, with the premiere scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Thanks to dumb luck, I managed to get a DVD screener of the four-hour "inning", and gave it a whirl yesterday while Stanford was clobbering Wake Forest.
Burns has met that tall order and more in this update of the classic series. I do have a few quibbles about it, but I'll get to that later.
The main point is this: how does Burns condense 15 years of history in four hours? He concentrates on the main issues that affected that period. The biggest one is the popularity of steroid use, and how it may not that surprising it would happen. In fact, one person gives a really good reason why players would turn to steroids, and you'll be surprised who says it.
He looks at how the game is passed on from father to son, especially in the case of Barry Bonds. If nothing else, this documentary explains his development as a player and person very effectively. You may not be a fan, but you see him in a new way.
It looks at the 1994 strike, and how it robbed fans of what would have been a history-making season. Ask any Montreal baseball fan. It also looks at how the chase for Roger Maris' home run record practically brought the game back from the brink, even though it may have been helped by...yep...steriods.
The second half looks at how the Giants came so close to finally getting a World Series title to San Francisco, while the Red Sox finally reached the holy grail. It points out the Sox really won in the American League Championship Series, not by sweeping St. Louis a few days later.
It also looks at 9-11's impact on the game, and it also looks at Steve Bartman, but thankfully briefly.
If anyone does dominate the "inning", it would be Bonds. He was a guy who's the son of a player, and thought his abilities should be recognized. When they were not due to the Mcgwire/Sosa home run chase, he did what he thought he had to do. Then, once he did achieve two major home run records, the adulation he thought he'd get didn't quite happen. That's baseball, especially if you remember the previous nine innings of the series.
Some commentators from the original series are back, including George Will, Gerald Early, Daniel Okrent, and long-suffering Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin. They're joined by Keith Olbermann, Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Breton and Mike Barnacle. In fact, the second half is dominated by Barnacle, and how he suffered along with his Sox against those damn Yankees.
As I said, I do have some quibbles. For some thing, where was Jack Buck's poem just before the Cardinals resumed play after the 9-11 attacks? Why just 8 seconds for the Chicago White Sox winning the World Series? Was Burns afraid he'll make too many Cubs fans mad?
Well, maybe this "inning" should have been a bit longer to fit them in. Still, "Baseball: The Tenth Inning" is a great update of an already classic documentary series. Let's just hope we get an 11th inning in a few years.