I’ve been hearing stuff like this from the Washington Post’s Tom Shales over and over from people fortunate enough to have previewed the update to Ken Burns’ “Baseball” — called “The Tenth Inning” — which premiers tonight:
Your degree of interest might depend on where you live, since “Tenth
Inning” tends to favor the Northeastern United States and spends
relatively little time west of the Mississippi. Especially in the second
half, Burns and Novick
concentrate on New York, Boston and Baltimore to a degree that seems
I get that you have to have a lot of east coast in this one because apart from steroids, the story of baseball from 1994-present is one of economics. Economics which led to the end of that relatively brief period of parity in the game that began after the fall of the Mickey Mantle Yankees in the late 60s and lasted until Derek Jeter showed up. You have to focus on the Yankees in such a story, and if you’re talking about the Yankees you have to talk about the Red Sox.
But it is going to put a lot of people off. Documentaries are at their best, I think, when they teach us stuff we don’t know, and who among us isn’t familiar with the Yankees-Red Sox storyline? I guess this is a problem when you try to document something so recent.
Also worth noting is that the primary narrative thrust of the thing is going to be steroids, and Burns decided to tell the story of steroids in baseball by focusing on the story of Barry Bonds. This is probably a good choice in that (a) Bonds is the most significant player attached to steroids; and (b) Bonds is an interesting and complicated figure in his own right and is likely to lead to good storytelling in ways that, say, Rafael Palmiero and Jose Canseco wouldn’t.
My fear is that Bonds’ story is portrayed as a story of the Fall of Man or some such and that the facts complicating such a narrative (i.e. baseball’s complicity in PED use) are underplayed. Burns hasn’t disappointed me before, however, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here.
“The Tenth Inning” premieres on PBS Tonight at 8 p.m. and continues tomorrow night at the same time.