The narrative has more of an edge, but the visuals in an updated Baseball are as sharp as ever
Sixteen years after releasing his epic 19-hour miniseries Baseball, award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has returned to the topic to cover the events since its release. Featuring voices familiar (George Will, the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell) and new (SI senior writer Tom Verducci and Hank Aaron biographer Howard Bryant), Burns's four-hour addendum, which PBS will air on Sept. 28 and 29, encompasses the period from 1992 through 2009 using Burns's patented format, in which he weaves the observations of writers and players with artfully chosen footage.
As with the original, the strength of the updated documentary is in its visuals. You could turn the sound down and still enjoy the entire four hours, as Burns taps into the richest era of video in the game's history. Hit mute and bask in the clips of Greg Maddux throwing his changeup, Tony Gwynn doubling to left field, Ichiro gunning down Terrence Long at third base and Byung-Hyun Kim living a nightmare. (And reliving it the next night.)
Hit that same button again, however, and the challenges Burns faced become apparent. Serious, difficult, complex issues, such as the 1994 strike, the effects of performance-enhancing drugs and the events of 9/11, are discussed against the backdrop of all those inspiring images. That dissonance gives this chapter—The Tenth Inning, in Burns's parlance—a bite that wasn't present in the first nine. The original documentary celebrated baseball and its players. This one cleaves the two, venerating the game and the events while often distancing itself from the participants and their actions.
The Tenth Inning cements the accepted narratives of the past 20 years. The strike was millionaires versus billionaires, and was everyone's fault; drugs made the home runs come; Cal Ripken Jr. saved baseball; Barry Bonds took steroids because he was jealous of Sammy and Big Mac; Moneyball validated the primacy of stats. Depending on your stance, you'll find yourself nodding in agreement or grinding your teeth, often within the same segment.
The Tenth Inning is a worthy coda to Burns's initial documentary, spiked with treats such as engaging interviews with Pedro Martinez, Ichiro and Joe Torre. But the images are what make this must-see TV for the seamhead set.
COURTESY OF AL KAREVY PHOTOGRAPHY/PBS (BURNS)
CAMERA EYE ON THE BALL Burns still celebrates the game, if not so much players such as Bonds.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (BONDS)
[See caption above]