The first criticism I heard about Ken Burns’ new documentary, Baseball: The 10th Inning, was from my parents. Being the good mid-west people they are, they’re tired of hearing about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. So am I, but at the same time: what’s done is done. They told me it contained too much Yankees and Red Sox. This turned me off, but then I thought about it and realized it would be very difficult to make a documentary about baseball from 1992 through 2009 without including those two teams.
Having said that, I loved Ken Burns’ new addition to his original nine-part series. Burns takes his best sources from the original series like George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell and puts them right back in front of the camera for a great perspective on the last two decades of the game. Burns also calls on new opinions to the game like Howard Bryant, Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez.
Burns gives great perspective on the steroids era, starting with Jose Canseco and the Oakland A’s of the late eighties and flows to Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and eventually Barry Bonds. Almost every story that is told in The 10th Inning I’ve heard before, but never from the perspectives they’re told from here. It’s great to hear of Pedro Martinez’s dominance from 1997 through 2003 from Pedro as well as noted sportswriters. I’ve known the story of Ichiro as I’ve been watching him play since his first game in 2000, but never really thought about what an anomaly he was from the rest of the game. While the name of the game in the beginning of the century was, as George Will puts it, “Get two guys on base, get Godzilla to the plate to knock it into Tokyo Bay,” Ichiro was playing like a throwback to the deadball era and Negro leagues. Ichiro is Cool Papa Bell!
The story of Bonds cannot be ignored and Burns tackles it well from a small biography of his father, Bobby, to his time with Pittsburgh and onto his big signing with San Francisco before the 1993 season. Burns shows the viewer how Bonds became the egotistical player he was.
I was worried Burns would go through all five of the Yankees World Series victories in depth, but instead, we only get to really know the 1996 Yankees. That team happened to be the one New York squad I was rooting for (and likely, the rest of the country). Joe Torre gives great insight to that team along with how the Series went down after losing the first two at home to the Braves.
Burns uses a lot more players than the previous nine innings and every one of them contribute well to the story. Omar Vizquel, Ichiro, Torre and Martinez all show they have a great personality to match their skills on the diamond.
If it isn’t obvious that Burns is a Red Sox fan by the film, then watch the bonus footage and be thankful most of it was cut. There is a full games highlights at Fenway Park as well as the entire guided tour in the special features. Much of the interviews are certainly worth watching, especially from the ballplayers.
Much like my attitude at the time, I was happy to listen to the stories of the 2004 Red Sox, but was glad to move on once it was done. Thankfully, Burns doesn’t dwell on the 2007 team and only mentions them along with the other World Series winners from 2005 through 2009.
Fans of small market teams may feel left out of this four-hour film, but this isn’t the All-Star Game and everyone can’t be included. I would have loved to see more on the Twins, but how much is there to tell to the casual fan who’s not from the midwest?
I think the greatest compliment Ken Burns’ original documentary received was from my girlfriend who didn’t know anything about baseball or even care about it. I was watching the second inning and Ty Cobb was being profiled. She watched a few minutes and said, “I could watch this.” When even the non-baseball fan enjoys it that much, imagine how much real baseball fans can get out of it.