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Prepare to enjoy Ken Burns' "Baseball" update. If you're from the East Coast.

Sep 28, 2010, 8:25 AM EDT

I’ve been hearing stuff like this from the Washington Post’s Tom Shales over and over from people fortunate enough to have previewed the update to Ken Burns’ “Baseball” — called “The Tenth Inning” — which premiers tonight:

Your degree of interest might depend on where you live, since “Tenth
Inning” tends to favor the Northeastern United States and spends
relatively little time west of the Mississippi. Especially in the second
half, Burns and Novick
concentrate on New York, Boston and Baltimore to a degree that seems
provincially East-Coasty.

I get that you have to have a lot of east coast in this one because apart from steroids, the story of baseball from 1994-present is one of economics. Economics which led to the end of that relatively brief period of parity in the game that began after the fall of the Mickey Mantle Yankees in the late 60s and lasted until Derek Jeter showed up. You have to focus on the Yankees in such a story, and if you’re talking about the Yankees you have to talk about the Red Sox.

But it is going to put a lot of people off. Documentaries are at their best, I think, when they teach us stuff we don’t know, and who among us isn’t familiar with the Yankees-Red Sox storyline?  I guess this is a problem when you try to document something so recent.

Also worth noting is that the primary narrative thrust of the thing is going to be steroids, and Burns decided to tell the story of steroids in baseball by focusing on the story of Barry Bonds.  This is probably a good choice in that (a) Bonds is the most significant player attached to steroids; and (b) Bonds is an interesting and complicated figure in his own right and is likely to lead to good storytelling in ways that, say, Rafael Palmiero and Jose Canseco wouldn’t.

My fear is that Bonds’ story is portrayed as a story of the Fall of Man or some such and that the facts complicating such a narrative (i.e. baseball’s complicity in PED use) are underplayed.  Burns hasn’t disappointed me before, however, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here.

“The Tenth Inning” premieres on PBS Tonight at 8 p.m. and continues tomorrow night at the same time.

  1. Joe Tetreault - Sep 28, 2010 at 8:53 AM

    A friend who saw one of the previews and who bifurcatedly roots for both his hometown Red Sox and adopted town White Sox reports the 2003-04 Red Sox teams get over a half hour of air time in the tenth inning, compared to less than a minute for the Pale Hose. There surely is an east coast bias in the tenth inning. Part of that is the number of voices eager to talk about the Red Sox. And part of it is the rabid fanaticism of some of my Red Sox rooting fellows. I’ll give Burns the benefit of the doubt, and I’ve already set the DVR. But if this is a lovesong to the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, I’ll be plenty disappointed.

  2. Josh in DC - Sep 28, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    No one cares about the stupid White Sox.

  3. BC - Sep 28, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    Parity after the Mantle Yankees? There were basically three or four really consistently good teams in five year stretches from 1965-1980. You had the Baltimore-Cincinatti-Oakland stretch, then New York-Cincinatti-Boston, then New York-LA-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia.
    It’s funny how people say New York / Boston dominated the 2000’s. Look at how many different World Series winners you had 2000-2009. THAT’S parity.

  4. Mr. Heyward - Sep 28, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    The entire south side of Chicago would beg to differ. Now why don’t you ask your mommy if you can go outside and play.

  5. Josh in DC - Sep 28, 2010 at 10:48 AM lists 587 books about the Red Sox and 276 books about the White Sox.
    PBS knows who its audience is.

  6. Md23Rewls - Sep 28, 2010 at 8:12 PM

    The Yankees and Red Sox did dominate the decade. They won 40% of the titles in the decade, with one of Boston’s coming in historic fashion, and the Yankees won the most regular season games (with Boston floating near the top too, I’m sure). I completely understand that some people want balance, but if you’re making a documentary, you have to have something to focus on. Focusing on the two teams that won the most championships in the decade would probably be a decent place to start.

  7. Larry - Sep 28, 2010 at 8:56 PM

    Parity, schmarity. Here’s the AL Pennant Winners of the past 10 years:
    2000 – Yankees
    2001 – Yankees
    2002 – Angels (nope, they didn’t spend big bucks to get there)
    2003 – Yankees
    2004 – Red Sox
    2005 – White Sox
    2006 – Tigers
    2007 – Red Sox
    2008 – Rays
    2009 – Yankees
    So not only did the Red Sox & Yankees combine for 40% of the World Series victories, the had 60% of the American League Pennants. If anything, I would say that the National League had a lot more parity over the same decade, with the Mets, Diamondbacks, Giants, Marlins, Cardinals, Astros, Cardinals (again), Rockies, Phillies (twice).
    But Burns is a rabid Red Sox fan, and we can only assume that he, like Stephen King and many others before him, will revel in the 2004 playoffs.

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