1994, TV

Baseball (1994, 2010 Ken Burns, Lynn Novick)

Burns and co.’s constant mythologizing is a lot more appropriate here than it was in The Civil War, and as such I feel like this effort is the more successful one, despite the greater historical importance of the first series.

And to their credit, they only mythologize about certain things. For some examples, the game’s ludicrous origin myth is thoroughly destroyed, as is the idea that the best players of all-time played in the early ’20s when African Americans weren’t allowed in the pros.

But the program is a little myopic given its length; though some local focus is necessary this documentary is far too focused on the New York and Boston teams. Yes, the Yankees are the greatest professional sports team in North American history, but the same cannot be said for the Dodgers, Giants or Bosox, and some episodes of Baseball carry on as if few other teams existed. You wouldn’t know the Tigers or Indians, for example, had really been around as long as they have if you only watched some middle episodes.

One other thing I have to nitpick though: there is so very little talk of the Jays that I take it a littler personally. Had they not won two World Series in a row, that would be a little more understandable, but are they really trying to tell me that this team warrants not even a footnote?

The above was my opinion on the series until I watched “The Tenth Inning,” an altogether different beast. This update of the series is, for me, the best episode. It is far more free of the mythologizing that Burns’ is work is so prone to but, far more importantly, it takes on the steroids issue from both points of view, something I never would have expected from this show.

It is extraordinarily refreshing to see people expressing understanding of why steroids happen instead of the usual moral outrage of the baseball writing establishment, which is so tired and so very, very ridiculous. (To clarify: so many old-school baseball writers have a problem with roids and / or gambling – and the players who used them, not the league that allowed it. But these same writers don’t have a problem with the violence, alcohol or drug abuse, and womanizing of players of an earlier era, or with spit balls and other forms of “cheating.”) To paraphrase Chris Rock in this episode, ‘If someone gave you a pill and said this pill will get you paid like Steven Spielberg, you’d take it. Of course you would.’

This episode is the series’ crowning achievement and is seriously forcing me to re-consider my rating of the documentary.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.