PBS | 2010 | 241 mins. | NR

In 1994, Ken Burns 18 ½ hour documentary Baseball, first broadcast on PBS, took an extensive look at the game and its impact on American society. Divided into nine parts (each appropriately referred to as an “inning”, following the division of the game) each covers a topic including race, business, and labor relations as it affected baseball and its fans.

Now, in 2010, Burns is back with Baseball: The Tenth Inning. In the intervening years, the way a lot of us see the sport has changed. Steroids and baseball sometimes feel like they go together as well as cereal and milk.  Despite what we know, fans continue to pack the parks and hope for ‘long balls.’

Baseball – The Tenth InningAs with Baseball, The Tenth Inning finds Burns effectively capturing the spirit of the game in a way few documentaries are able to do.  Featuring interviews with writers, editors, managers, players, commentators, and historians, one message is abundantly clear: Baseball matters to a majority of Americans. No matter your race, ethnicity or socio-economic standing, everyone’s on equal footing when rooting for their favorite team.

However, The Tenth Inning isn’t all happiness and light. Burns, along with co-director Lynn Novick take a look at steroids; the subject that continues to divide fans to this day. The filmmakers begin with a segment on one of the most divisive figures in the sport: Barry Bonds. Things begin as he’s a fresh faced star for the Pittsburgh Pirates, tearing up the league. All the steroid controversy that would eventually call many of his career accomplishments into question, don’t come until later in the series. The strike of 1994 is shown for what it was, a complete slap in the face to fans of baseball. (It didn’t even accomplish anything, and probably helped to ensure the Expos would leave Montreal.) The steroid era is addressed with an evenhandedness that puts the era in its proper historical perspective.

The summer of 1998 would go a long way to rehabilitating baseball in the eyes of the fans.  The home run race between Sosa and McGwire was back then before we concerned ourselves with asterisks and Congressional hearings.  Ignorance sure was bliss.  Even reporters largely ignored the andro tablets found in McGwire’s locker. While McGwire wasn’t particularly thrilled to be the object of so much press attention, he was congenial enough, and Sosa reminded us that baseball was indeed a game.

As a huge baseball fan (who’s still smarting over the Red Sox dismal season), I’ll probably spend this year’s playoffs replaying the scenes of the Sox’s miraculous 2004 comeback against the New York Yankees. Beyond that, The Tenth Inning helped reinforce my love for the game and taught me more about the history of baseball. Ken Burns is a great filmmaker.

The Tenth Inning is presented in 1080p when the opportunity presents itself. Much of the documentary is made up of archival footage.  Much of the footage is from standard definition telecasts and looks exactly as you would expect it to look.  The talking head footage is crisp and clear as it was shot in high definition.  Some of the later footage from the HDTV era is of the same quality as your average HDTV baseball broadcast.  While it would have been nice to see the various footage used restored and presented in high definition, one can appreciate it would have cost too much. Besides, there’s something nostalgic about seeing the older footage, essentially untouched.

The audio is also a mixed bag. The talking heads and narration is crisp and clear, but any archival audio is of the quality one would expect.  The track doesn’t appear to have been remastered for Blu-ray.  PBS understandably did not put in the extensive time and expenses in restoring the multitude of footage found in the four hour documentary.

The Tenth Inning includes over two hours of additional material including the following: An Interview with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, several additional scenes and outtakes.

Some thoughts from Chris Rock:

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