This man has seen Barry Bonds naked.
Baseball: The Tenth Inning
Directed by Ken Burns
Aired on PBS
Brief definition of irony: Ken Burns’s documentary Baseball, the bowl-cutted filmmaker’s wonderful (and almost twenty hour) love letter to “America’s game,” originally aired a little over a month after the start of 1994’s bitter Major League Baseball strike. Although that particular work stoppage was actually the eighth in our national pastime’s history, it was the first strike to result in the cancellation of all postseason play. There was no World Series in 1994, and why? The players didn’t want salary caps. Money, money, money. Greed, greed, greed. With that as a contemporary backdrop, it was…shall we say…slightly odd to watch Bob Costas get a boner every night rhapsodizing about the heroics of Al Kaline or the cantankerous genius of Billy Martin. Would the game ever be that pure again?
It seemed inevitable Ken Burns would revisit our beloved / disgraced sport for an update on the Moneyball Era, if only to capture the complex insanity of the game’s last true superstar, Barry Bonds. Indeed, a great deal of The Tenth Inning, Ken’s four hour addendum to Baseball, is devoted to the inexplicable late ’90s career boom of Mr. Bonds—intertwined, of course, with the dark shadow of steroids (dark enough to eventually involve Congress, anyway). Fans will debate until the end of time the effect performance-enhancing drugs have had on baseball as a whole; Burns tries his hardest to remain objective, but you can tell he’s just as disappointed as any other purist. Unsurprisingly, Chris Rock offers the most succint defense of steroids: if there was a pill that could instantly earn you more money at your job, wouldn’t you take it?
The rest of The Tenth Inning hits all the expected notes: the 1998 McGwire / Sosa home run race, another avenue for a raging ‘roid debate; the 2004 redemption of those perennial losers the Boston Red Sox; the nimble play of controversy-free stars like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki; the heartbreaking 2001 World Series loss of the New York Yankees, exacerbated by the recent devastation of 9/11. The absence of former big leaguers as talking heads in The Tenth comes across as suspect until you realize Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez offer plenty of interesting insight and the other people you really want to hear from (Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Canseco) have already said all they want to say for free.
Still, Ken Burns loses points for not even bothering to scare up disgraced Cubs fan Steve Bartman. In one fell 2003 playoff swoop, that son of a carpenter shattered an entire city’s heart and became Public Enemy #1 just for trying to snag what he thought was an out of play ball. Hearing Steve’s side of the story now would be captivating. Actually, I would have merely settled for Jeb Bush smirking about his offer to give Bartman “political asylum” in Florida.
At least The Tenth Inning is kind enough to offer a plethora of hilarious Don Zimmer images. The robust former Brooklyn Dodger pops up in many establishing Tenth Inning background shots, wearing all sorts of classic Zimmer emotions on his delightfully chubby mug (seething frustration, muted confusion, obvious hunger, etc). The newly withered lips Bob Costas displays in TTI also prove a delightful distraction. How can anyone only age in such a specific area? It’s time for some real talk about Botox.
Baseball may not mean as much to America as it did in the days before muscle-bound forty-somethings dodged questions about their drug intake while adorned in ill-fitting suits, but Ken Burns still has a reverence for the sport and what it could mean again one day to future generations. The Tenth Inning, while occasionally seeming slapdash and lacking a handful of key voices, should manage to stir something up in even the most betrayed former fan’s pit of bottomless Moneyball pain.
FINAL SCORE: Three and a half blustery Don Zimmers (out of four).