I normally would let my colleague and Dodger Thoughts blogger extraordinaire Jon Weisman opine on all things baseball, but while rummaging through a handful of DVDs this weekend, I discovered I had Ken Burns’ “Baseball: The Tenth Inning” and popped it in immediately.
The captivating four-hour docu, set to air Sept. 28-29 on PBS, is a look at the national pasttime for the last 16 years, and it’s amazing, when put into a filmmaker’s context, at how much has gone on in the game over the past two decades.
As it should be, much of the focus is on steroids, and how they nearly ruined a sport that — through bad times and sometimes worse — always manages to bounce back. Case in point: The bad blood of the 1994 strike, which brought about the cancellation of the World Series and fans proclaiming they’d never return to the ballpark, was eventually forgotten mostly because of Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record a year later.
As portrayed by Burns (a Red Sox fan) and most others, Barry Bonds is the villain of the era, and it was interesting to recollect how nobody outside of San Francisco cared all that much when he finally broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record in 2007. In what should’ve been a moment of remembering where you were when, arguably sports’ greatest and most talked-about record, the accomplishment of Bonds was met with a reaction more of disgust than joy — and that includes Commissioner Bud Selig.
Other moments Burns and co-producer Lynn Novick bring to attention:
— The joy so many in New England felt when the Red Sox came back from three games to none in the 2004 American League Championship Series to defeat the arch-rival New York Yankees, and eventually win the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals.
— The amazing trio of Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, and how they contributed to the Braves winning 14 straight division titles.
— The building of intimate ballparks — and knocking down those 1970s cookie-cutter monstrosities — that helped bring in additional revenue for many clubs and brought a greater intimacy to the game.
— The collapse of the San Francisco Giants in the 2002 World Series. Being up 5-0 late in game six, the Giants lost to the Anaheim Angels 6-5, and the Series in seven games.
— And, of course, the great home run race of 1998 when steroid-fueled sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled to see who could break Roger Maris’-record 61 dingers, which stood since 1961.