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More of Ken Burns's "Baseball"

By admin Published: January 7, 2009

The full announcement is after the jump. Short take: There will be a new segment, "The Tenth Inning," in Spring 2010, covering events from 1993, when "Baseball" originally ended, to 2008.  The nine segments from the original series will also be replayed.

When I think of "Baseball," I always remember a scene where Billy Crystal is going into incredible detail about a baseball memory. "I'm sorry that I'm like this," he says, "but it's baseball." Still, I said at the time that the documentary went on longer than necessary -- although I still love parts of it, including Crystal's. I'm pasting my original review after the jump, and after the "Tenth Inning" announcement.

Here's the announcement:
PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) announced today that it will air the new Ken Burns documentary film, THE TENTH INNING, in the spring of 2010. The program is co-directed by Burns and longtime colleague Lynn Novick and co-written and produced by Burns, Novick and David McMahon. The special will coincide with a re-broadcast of the original nine-part documentary series, BASEBALL, which debuted in 1994 and was seen by more than 48 million viewers.
Set to air 16 years after the landmark Emmy Award-winning series captivated American viewers, THE TENTH INNING will follow baseball’s trajectory from 1993 through 2008, beginning where the original series left off.
Produced in association with Major League Baseball Productions, the film celebrates baseball’s enduring appeal and showcases the unforgettable heroics and achievements on the field over the past 15 years, vividly presented against a backdrop of the social and cultural history of America during this same period. It also details the tumultuous times the sport faced during this era, from performance-enhancing drugs to the players’ strike that tested the loyalty of many fans
"So much has transpired in baseball since we last examined the game and all of its many nuances” said Ken Burns. “Above all, this new installment furthers a sense of celebration and introspection around one of our nation’s greatest institutions, the seemingly simple stick and ball game whose infinite variations and possibilities have entranced our ever-changing nation for nearly 200 years.”
“Ken and I are passionate baseball fans ourselves, so it’s a project that resonates with us on many levels,” added Lynn Novick. “We were extremely fortunate to capture a cross-section of compelling perspectives on the game, and gain a deeper understanding of what it means in our ever-changing world.”
"We’re thrilled to revisit BASEBALL with Ken, Lynn and all of the talented folks at Florentine Films,” said John Boland, PBS Chief Content Officer. “For all of the loyal viewers who have clamored over the years for a new chapter of BASEBAL, we can now officially say it’s time to ‘play ball’ once again."
Many familiar faces from the first nine installments of the series will add their welcome perspectives on events of the last fifteen years, including writers Roger Angell, Dan Okrent, Gerald Early and Doris Kearns Goodwin, as well as broadcaster Bob Costas. The film will also feature revealing interviews with player/managers Felipe Alou and Joe Torre, players Omar Vizquel and Ichiro Suzuki, writers Marcos Breton and Howard Bryant, and other players, managers, writers and fans from across the country, as well as overseas.

Here's my review:
The defining moment for Ken Burns' documentary on our greatest game comes late in the series.
Actor-comedian Billy Crystal, an avid baseball fan, is reminiscing about the Yankees' loss in the 1960 World Series: "Bill Mazeroski's home run in 1960. Seven games, Pirates, in Pittsburgh. We beat 'em 12-nothing, 10-nothing, 16-3. We're into the last inning. We tie it up. Mickey made an amazing base-running play, a little head fake and Gil McDougald's ... "
Then Crystal realizes he is going on too long. "I'm sorry that I'm like this," he says, "but it's baseball."
It's also Baseball, which will begin tonight. Like Crystal, the documentary dearly loves the game, rejoices in the nuance and detail of what has happened on the diamond, and tends to go on too long.
For 18 1/2 hours spread over nine nights (called "innings") in two weeks, Baseball is not merely viewing. It feels like a lifetime commitment. At times it has great beauty, emotion, even humor. It has the epic feel that Burns and his collaborators brought to PBS' cathartic series The Civil War. There is poetry even in the simple recitation of teams from the minor leagues.
It tackles myths, from baseball as a pastoral game (the miniseries presents its urban beginnings) to the long discredited claims for Abner Doubleday as the father of baseball, and yet it appreciates the mythic hold baseball has had on America; a consistent issue here is baseball as a great racial metaphor for what has happened in America.
It presents commentators who have played the game -- Mickey Mantle, Curt Flood, Ted Williams, Negro League star Buck O'Neil -- and those who have spent lifetimes watching it -- Crystal, George Will, sportswriters Shirley Povich and Roger Angell, broadcasters Red Barber and Bob Costas, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, New York Gov. (and former ballplayer) Mario Cuomo.
Tough on penurious owners, Baseball also ends with a sense that the professional game has lost something as millionaire ballplayers became distanced from the fans who were once their peers.
As football made its case as the great American game in the TNT documentary 75 Seasons, so baseball offers a reply -- historian Daniel Okrent praising the very thing that some people dislike about baseball, that so much of the fan's role is "pondering inaction," and Will dismissing football as "violence punctuated by committee meetings."
Yet as much as I love baseball, as fun as this can be, as great as it is to relive games and revisit its characters, Baseball falls short of being a great documentary.
Some of that comes in the way stories are told. Take Bob Gibson, the great St. Louis Cardinals pitcher. Baseball is duly impressed with him, especially his work in the 1967 series, where Gibson won three games as the Cards took my beloved Boston Red Sox. But in describing Gibson's remarkable 1968 season, Baseball leaves out the punch line: that the Cards lost that World Series to the Tigers, and Gibson was the losing pitcher in the seventh game.
And over time, the view of baseball comes to feel too much like an Eastern intellectual examination of the game, one where baseball is never just baseball and where the Red Sox and the Brooklyn Dodgers are the source of endless fascination not because they played the game so well, but because they lost the big game so often.
As Angell says of the New York Mets' early popularity over their on-field superiors, the Yankees, "There's more Mets than Yankees in all of us. What we experience in daily life is more losing than winning." But some of us, still, follow baseball in search of the joy in teams' and players' successes.
Overall, a basic dramatic problem confronts Baseball -- that there is no closure to the story of the game. Recent events suggest Burns and PBS would have been better off waiting another year, to end with the crippling major-league strike. But even then, the game went on in minor-league parks and dusty playgrounds. It is to Baseball's credit that at its end I felt the urge to toss a ball with my sons.
At the same time, though, a great documentary like The Civil War or Henry Hampton's Eyes on the Prize, a chronicle of the civil rights movement, draws you not only with its storytelling but with the awareness that you know where you are going. Baseball does not provide that kind of dramatic end, and neither does Baseball.

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