Baseball: The Tenth Inning

Baseball: The Tenth Inning


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



it was Burns duty as a journalist and historian to question Selig about his role in getting another of his buddies, then president George W. Bush, a former MLB team owner, to advocate for a liberal change in immigration laws.These drastic changes opened the floodgates and allowed MLB to import an unlimited number of foreign baseball players at one-tenth the cost of what they have to pay Americans.



 Ken Burns’ Baseball Documentary Tenth Inning

A Review by Jean Damu


Part I: Ken Burns—A Sly Story Teller

Just yesterday a friend commented that former Philly playground god and NY Knicks guard Earl Monroe’s, Black Magic, was the best sports documentary he’d ever seen. Then, serendipitously, last night PBS aired the first installment of Ken Burns, Tenth Inning.

Wow! What a great piece of current historical journalism. While it doesn’t blow Black Magic out f the water, it’s right up there among the very best documentaries on sports, far more riveting than his acclaimed series on the history of baseball.

From the first installment it’s not clear exactly where Burns is going with his newest work but it could have been subtitled, “How steroids saved baseball,” or “Barry Bonds: the man who resurrected the former national pastime.”

From what we saw last night Bonds is the central character in this great American drama and this is as it should be because ultimately Barry Bonds will be remembered as the Jack Johnson the 21st Century, the other worldly gifted black athlete crushed beneath US racism.

Two weeks ago on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast Hall of Famer Orel Hershiser commented, “Barry Bonds was the greatest offensive machine I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

So clearly, Barry Bonds is not just another run of the mill Hall of Famer—a Hall of Famer who likely never will be a Hall of Famer.

But Burns seems to be the first to tackle this riveting story from an apparently politically left and humanistic point of view.

Tenth Inning has a Frontline quality to it, that PBS investigative journalism magazine that made 60 Minutes seem irrelevant.

But Burns, after all these years and all these documentaries, is a sly storyteller. Never once does he mention racism.

However, as Burns story of baseball’s use of steroids unfolds, at least in what we’ve seen so far, the adulation heaped upon Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa added to the denial and disinterest in the topic by the nations’ sportswriters in contrast to the treatment Bonds was to receive is laying the basis for a great study in national racism. Whether it plays out in ensuing installments remains to be seen.

The dark storm clouds of racism and hypocrisy are billowing on the horizon.

But how can racism be a factor? After all, Sosa is Sosa!

Not so fast. In the curious social milieu of the US in particular and the Western Hemisphere in general, according to where you’re standing, you’re considered either black, Latino, or Afro-Latino. In the Dominican Republic, Sosa’s home, if you’re a crook you’re black and Haitian. If you’re a baseball player, you’re Dominican. In the US Afro-Latino players are given a pass, and like apartheid South Africa used to grant honorary white status to Japanese, America considers Afro-Latino players honorary whites. Most Afro-Latino players gleefully embrace this status and some even attend Glenn Beck rallies.

It’s doubtful Burns will get into any of this, and we stray.

Set against the background of the 1994 players strike that for the very first time cancelled the World Series and the dispiriting, sordid Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal consuming the nation, Burns argues all of America embraced the Mark McGuireSammy Sosa home run derby as a happy diversion, all the while (apparently it seems) calibrating a building racist rage after McGuire and Sosa’s use of steroids was revealed and readying to loose it upon Bonds in the coming years.

That’s just one viewer’s opinion of the direction Burns seems headed but without a doubt Bonds is the central character.

Burns’ genius is that he recognized the Homeric quality of Bonds’ story and seems to have found a compelling way to tell it.

Here’s hoping Burns fulfills the promises of the first installment and doesn’t strike out in the Tenth Inning.

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Part 2:Ken Burns—Bottom of Tenth

As you may recall, in the top of Tenth Inning Ken Burns launched a lovely, arcing projectile over the left field wall. It plopped down into McCovey Cove, that small piece of the SF Bay that nestles against an outside concourse of the Giants stadium-the destination of only the longest hit home runs.

In other words Burns beautifully set up the first segment of his two part series on contemporary baseball. He led us from the 1994 baseball strike that resulted in drastically diminished fan attendance to the looming steroids issue that had fans rushing back to the nations ballparks. The central character Barry Bonds was warmly delineated. We were deliciously set up for a Homeric level dramatic conclusion.

The scene is set. Burns steps into the batters box once again. This is the most fearful moment in all of sports. A virtually unprotected player facing a world-class athlete preparing to launch a potentially lethal object straight towards him.

In the Bottom of the Tenth, part two of his documentary, Burns gets to bat again.

This time though Burns blinks, his knees buckle and as his body twists toward the plate in self-defense. The ball accidentally caroms off his bat and dribbles down the third base line. Shocked, Burns runs like hell and barely beats the throw to first. Scorers debate whether to award Burns a single or charge the third baseman with an error. The nod goes to Burns, a mere single. The hit has value and is welcome but it doesn’t come near to his earlier homer.

The great promised drama is lying on the cutting room floor somewhere. (Well they don’t cut and splice film anymore, but you get the idea.)

Or to lavishly engage in yet another metaphor, in part two Burns hauls out his bucket of Tom Sawyer whitewash, buys Aunt Polly’s story about the fence and tries to sell it to the rest of us.

Some of us ain’t buyin’ it. What a letdown but we’re not surprised. Burns does have corporate sponsors to satisfy after all.

Despite the extravagant excess of this essay’s lead, the Bottom of the Tenth has some really good reporting.

The interviews and thumbnail biographies of Pedro Martinez, the great Dominican pitcher of the Boston Red Sox and Japan’s Ichiro Suzuki, internationally known simply as Ichiro, and even today arguably the best athlete in the major leagues, were classic in their simplicity and clarity.

Another highlight was the segment devoted to the Oakland A’s and their groundbreaking method of utilizing statistical data to reanalyze other teams castoff ballplayers whom the A’s felt were undervalued. With enough statistical data in their favor the A’s often picked up discarded players and got good performances from them. Consequently the A’s have been able to consistently field competitive teams while maintaining one of the smallest payrolls in the majors.

On the desultory side of the scorecard Burns seems to have totally bought into MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s version of history. One can argue this understandable given that without Selig’s approval the documentary would never have gotten off the ground.

But Burns is not nearly skeptical enough of Selig’s version. After all, this is the same Bud Selig, who as owner of the Milwaukee Bucks was found guilty, along with his sleazebag, Chicago White Sox-owning buddy, Jerry Reinsdorf, was found guilty of collusion (making back room deals regarding players contracts) and thereby hoodwinking the players union out of $50 million. Oops!  Forgot to mention that, huh Ken.

OK. OK. It happened more than 20 yeas ago, but among the Neanderthal racists that make up the MLB owners, Selig’s guilt became a badge of honor and made him a logical choice to replace former commissioner Fay Vincent, after the owners ran him out of town for attempting to inject some civility into the relationships between owners and players.

Bottom of the Tenth often looses focus. Almost 30 minutes are devoted to the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalry. Compelling stuff likely if you live somewhere between NYC and Boston-but for the rest of the nation-Zzzzzz!

Another Burns misstep was the total absence of any mention of the second largest scandal in MLB-that would be the near elimination of African Americans.

Admittedly there are many reasons for the dearth of African Americans in the majors.  However, it was Burns duty as a journalist and historian to question Selig about his role in getting another of his buddies, then president George W. Bush, a former MLB team owner, to advocate for a liberal change in immigration laws.

These drastic changes opened the floodgates and allowed MLB to import an unlimited number of foreign baseball players at one-tenth the cost of what they have to pay Americans.

This issue was confronted in the very real and accurate movie, Sugar, about minor league ballplayers—but Burns doesn’t come within the distance of a ten-foot pole of the issue. Very unsatisfactory.

Throughout the two part series narrative is provided by Keith David. This fellow has to be a magna cum laude graduate of the Paul Winfield School of Narration. Producers for “City Confidential,” should sign him immediately, He was one of the best elements of the series.

A real downer for many viewers likely will be the talking heads sprinkled throughout the series. They are particularly annoying in Bottom of the Tenth.

Mike Barnicle, celebrated sports columnist for the Boston Globe, historian Doris Kerns-Goodwin, Washington Post resident pig George Will and MLB shill Bob Costas were particularly galling.

What’s discernible from these folks is how baseball is perceived by many to be a reverse transmission to earlier times, or as Marcel Proust famously wrote, Rememberances of Things Past

One of Kern’s testimonies is instructive but bordered on the delusional.

She reflected back and informed us when she was a girl her Dad had taught her how to record the box scores—she shared precious memories of listening to baseball games on the radio with him and keeping the box scores.

“When my granddaughter gets a little older I’m going to teach her how to keep box scores,” Kern intoned with a determined delight.

We’ve got news for sister Kerns. When her granddaughter gets a little older, and if she is as consumed by sports as her grandmother was then likely she’ll conform to the tastes of the 21st Century which is pretty much all NFL, all the time.

Football, and the NFL in particular has become the monster of television and beyond.

NFL viewership, some circles report, is twice that of MLB and the NBA combined.

But here’s what’s really interesting. Football has become so much a part of the electronic culture, play calling strategies devised on the ubiquitous Madden video  games are now impacting play calling inside the NFL stadiums.

No other sport is as comfortable with modern culture as football.

Given those circumstances it’s not likely Doris Kerns Goodwin’s granddaughter is going to be much interested in learning how to keep box scores, unless she’s one of those rare kids that likes to play with spinning wheels and bronze axes.

Burns’ Tenth Inning, like most of his work is high quality but in this case deeply flawed by its interpretations and omissions. If you’ve only got time to watch one part take the first one. Whiff on the second. 

30 September 2010

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Jean Damu is an educator, journalist, trade unionist and political activist. In his capacity as a former member of the National Committee of the Venceremos Brigade and as a private citizen he has traveled to Cuba 18 times (and counting), Africa, Asia and Latin America. He is also a member of NʼCOBRA  (the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America) and serves on the steering committee of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.   He has written on numerous topics and has a special interest in Africa.    

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Baseball: The Tenth Inning

Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

1992 – 2009: As the tumultuous twentieth century is drawing to a close, and a new millennium begins, baseball continues to reflect the complicated country that created it. In an age of globalization and speculation, the players and the owners wage a cataclysmic battle over money and power; dazzlingly talented Latin and Asian stars transform the game; Cal Ripken becomes the game’s new Iron Man; sluggers Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds do things that have never been done before; the Yankees build a dynasty while their arch rivals, the Red Sox, stage the greatest comeback in history. And in September of 2001, at a time when America seems most threatened, baseball offers the hope that things will one day return to normal. The national pastime is more popular, and more profitable, than ever, but suspicions and revelations about performance enhancing drugs keep surfacing, threatening the integrity of the game itself. Still, through it all, baseball endures, a game of infinite possibility and surpassing beauty.—PBS

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Tenth Inning a worthy update to Ken Burns’ Baseball—by Bruce Dancis—Baseball has always reflected the culture and society in which it exists, for better and for worse. As documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick showed in “Baseball,” their wonderful nine-part PBS series from 1994, the U.S. national pastime has had its cyclical dark sides and positive eras.

The cheating and gambling that was so prevalent in the early decades of the 20th century led to a “fixed” World Series in 1919, but was also quickly followed by the emergence of Babe Ruth as a national sports hero. While racial segregation shamefully kept African Americans out of the Major Leagues from the 1880s through 1947, the game’s integration helped push the wider American society to end legal discrimination, leading to baseball’s “golden age” of the 1950s and ‘60s. Burns and Novick ended their series on a note of optimism, as baseball appeared to be entering a new era of unparalleled performance and popularity.

Now Burns and Novick, plus co-writer/co-producer David McMahon, have brought the story of baseball up to 2009 in their two-part documentary The Tenth Inning. . . .

As in the original series—and in Burns’ historical documentaries in general—the filmmakers combine vintage photographs and film footage with interviews of former players, baseball officials and knowledgeable journalists. Where the original series introduced some very entertaining commentators on baseball—especially Buck O’Neil, a former Negro League player and manager and the first African-American coach in the Major Leagues, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and writer Steve Early—“The Tenth Inning” brings in some new, engaging voices, including sportswriters Howard Bryant and Tom Verducci. Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton (full disclosure: Breton is a friend and former colleague of this writer) may be the most valuable new addition to the series, as he provides expert and moving comments on several of the key issues of this era. These include the expanding role of Latin American ballplayers in the Majors, the widespread use of steroids and human growth hormones by players (and the belated effort by the players’ union and baseball officials to eliminate them), and the spectacular and controversial career of the San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds.—MontrealGazette

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Baseball: The Tenth Inning knocks it right out of the park—by Craig Shapiro—Ken Burns is only half-kidding when he says he made this sequel because his beloved Red Sox finally won the pennant. The bigger reason, as he eloquently points out, is our narrative is more than a list of presidencies punctuated by war. The issues we confront also are refracted through the prism that is baseball, and a lot has happened in the 16 years since his original series aired.

The strike of 1994. The taint of steroids. Baseball’s darker chapters are part of the story. But so is the lesson the sport learned when Cal Ripken Jr. eclipsed Lou Gehrig as the game’s iron man – to honor its players and celebrate its defining moments: Greg Maddux and Ichiro Suzuki; the ’96 Yankees, and the way nine men playing a kids’ game rallied us after 9/11. Other players—Barry Bonds—and other moments—the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase—are more complex.

Among those sharing their insights are MLB Commissioner Bud Selig; Donald Fehr, former head of the Players Association; broadcaster Bob Costas; historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; pitcher Pedro Martinez, and a host of writers – George Will, Mike Barnicle and Steve Wilstein, who was slammed for writing about McGwire’s use of androstenedione. A story that Keith Olbermann recalls from the days after the terrorist attacks will move you to tears.—HamptonRoads


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Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 9 October 2010



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