By Frank Barron
A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, Baseball: The Tenth Inning, reminds us of why we love the game. Burns has explored the history of America’s national pastime before, with his landmark 1994 PBS series Baseball (seen on our great local KCET). But that brilliant nine-part documentary ended with the strike, which left fans devastated and bitter about the battle between millionaire players verses billionaire owners.
Now Burns and co-director Lynn Novick take us into “extra innings,” with the four-hour, two-part documentary series, which features the compelling post-strike stories. And once again we can fall in love with the game.
There have been three home run records broken along with the Red Sox “curse” since the strike. And the headline-grabbing stories of baseball notables Joe Torre, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki, Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Bonds are examined.
Equally as fascinating is the show’s companion book, Baseball: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, with a new chapter by Kevin Baker. It is a must for every baseball fan of all ages, from Knopf publishing. There are priceless illustrations, vintage photos, and tributes to the immortals-, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, etc. There’s even a chapter on scoring a game at home or at the ballpark.
The book explores all aspects of the changing game. It takes sandlot baseball from a child’s game to an adult pastime, then professional status moving on in the 1900s. The Negro Leagues get their due, putting the spotlight on star players such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neill, and other greats. Of course Jackie Robinson’s contribution to the sport is well documented, one of the greatest all-around athletes ever to come out of UCLA. Roberto Clemente is another heroic player who gets acknowledged for his humanitarian efforts off the field, which lead to his untimely death.
Talented players nowadays come from other countries such as the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, etc., with Latin players dominating the game. And there are bright stars from Japan and Korea as the game continues to become a melting pot like America itself.
The players’ strike crippled baseball only temporarily, and new light is shed on those events in the book and the new documentary. Also there’s a harsh look at the latest phase of the game, steroids.
Baseball is an astute piece of literature to be enjoyed long after the PBS show airs.