Ken Burns vowed he would never do a sequel but six years ago he encountered a cosmic event so extraordinary that it forced the documentarian to change his mind:The Red Sox won the World Series.
That improbable 2004 victory, followed five months later by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and other baseball stars testifying on Capitol Hill about performance-enhancing drugs convinced Burns that he needed to do a postscript to Baseball his nine-part, 18-hour examination of the sport which debuted in 1994 during the players' strike. That series was watched by more than 43 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in PBS history.
Picking up where Baseball left off, Burns and co-director Lynn Novick return this month with The Tenth Inning, a four-hour documentary airing on PBS on Sept. 28-29. (The first part of the documentary will air at 8 and 10 p.m. on Sept 28; the second part airs the following night at the same time.) The updated series examines, among other topics: the 1994 players strike, the rise of the Yankees dynasty, the 1998 Home Run chase between McGwire and Sosa, the revelations of about performance-enhancing drugs, a dissection of Barry Bonds, the increasing dominance of Latino and Asian players, the Red Sox historic win, baseball in the shadow of 9/11, the new stadium boom across baseball, and concludes with the 2009 World Series.
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"This is the greatest game ever invented," Burns said. "Let us never forget this is the only team sport in which there is no clock, the only team sport in which the defense always has the ball, the only team sport in which the person scores and not the ball, and the only sport which has a rigid diamond but every outfield is different. Plus, there's the idea that you can only use your best player once every nine times at bat. You can inbound the ball to Michael Jordan so he can hit a three pointer every time and football has dimension but not the dimensions baseball does. I want people to understand just how resilient the game is, how emblematic it is and just what fun it is."
Burns started on The Tenth Inning in 2005 and worked on the film between other projects. He and Novick split up the interview subjects, with Burns sitting down with Felipe Alou, Don Fehr, Bud Selig and Omar Vizquel among others while Novick engaged Ichiro,Pedro Martinez and Joe Torre. Many of the talking heads from the original Baseball are back including writers Thomas Boswell and Doris Kearns Goodwin and broadcaster Bob Costas. For this project, Burns added modern-day baseball historians such as writer Mike Barnicle, broadcaster Keith Olbermann, Sacremento Bee columnist Marcos Bretón and SI's Tom Verducci. Producer David McMahon spentmonthsat MLB films to procure and cull the footage used in the film. "It has been tremendously exciting and challenging to try to do justice to this complicated story, and to try to understand what it says about who we are," said Novick.
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The filmmaker said he reached out to both Bonds and McGwire and was ultimately turned down. Selig appears on screen during an extended discussion on the steroid era. Said Burns: "I think MLB knew that there would be some stuff that was going to be unpleasant, but I think in the end Bud really understood that this stuff is bantered about every day on talk radio and in much more vitriolic and unfair terms. He knew we would be fair."
"Like all other eras, it's going to require fathers and mothers to tell daughters and sons the story behind the statistics in the only game where statistics matter," Burns continued. "The ultimate star of the game is its resiliency and willingness to deliver lessons about loss and life."
How does Burns view Bonds? "I've come out of this realizing how incredibly great a player he was and and how unfortunate that at least until 2007, when the Mitchell Report named Clemens, he was the poster boy for all of this despite Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmerio and the suspicions of McGwire and Sosa," Burns said. "Bonds is complicated, with our age-old dance with race and his off-putting personality which is not tolerated in a modern media age."
Clearly, Burns's passion is the Red Sox and the film often plays a bit like a love letter to the Old Towne Team. Obviously, baseball fans will love this series but if one were looking at nitpicks here's a couple: There's very little on Cardinals star Albert Pujols, the game's most dominant hitter today, and sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez also receive little beyond a cursory examination. While the 1996 World Series champion Yankees are profiled, the franchise's title teams of 1998, 1999 and 2000 are virtually ignored, especially the '98 squad that won 125 games. "Let me say as a life long hater on the Yankees, I am as proud of the scenes I made on the Yankees as I am on the Red Sox," Burns said. "I would not be a good filmmaker if all of this was an excuse to celebrate 2004."
Burns said he is already planning to do an Eleventh Inning and the goal is to debut it in 2020. "I would start with [Tigers pitcher] Armando Galarraga," he said. "That would be the prologue. I think it [the near-perfect game] was one of those iconic moments when you are reminded of loss and reminded of the impulse in this chaotic world to superimpose order by having some ex-post-facto decision. That's not the way life is, but to see this smile, the wince of Mona Lisa's smile on Armando Galaraga when he looks at [umpire] Jim Joyce who has just called the guy safe, it really is a wonderful thing."