Baseball (TV series)
|Created by||Ken Burns|
|Produced by||Ken Burns
|Written by||Geoffrey C. Ward
|Narrated by||John Chancellor|
|Original run||September 18, 1994– September 28, 1994|
|Running time||approx. 18.5 hours total|
|No. of episodes||9|
|Followed by||The Tenth Inning|
Baseball is similar to Burns' previous documentaries such as The Civil War, in the use of archived pictures and film footage mixed with interviews for visual presentation. Actors provide voice over reciting written work (letters, speeches, etc.) over pictures and video. The episodes are interspersed with the music of the times taken from previous Burns series, original played music, or recordings ranging from Louis Armstrong to Elvis Presley. The series was narrated by journalist John Chancellor, best known as the anchor of NBC Nightly News between 1970 and 1982.
The documentary is divided into nine parts, each referred to as an "inning", following the division of a baseball game. Each "inning" reviews a particular era in time, mentioning notable moments in the world and in America itself, and begins with a brief prologue that acts as an insight to the game during that era. The prologue ends with the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" just as a real baseball game would begin, being performed usually by a brass band, with a couple of exceptions: The 1920s, where the rendition is played by a piano of the era, and the 1960s, where the rendition is the version played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. In some "inning" episodes, a period version of the baseball anthem "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is used. Before the main feature, a brief preview and the events of the time of the "inning" to come follows.
Major themes explored throughout the documentary are those of race, business, labor relations, and the relationship between baseball and society. The series had an audience of 45 million viewers, which makes it the most watched program in Public Television history.
The film begins with an introduction by narrator John Chancellor:
It is played everywhere: in parks and playgrounds, prison yards, in back alleys and farmers’ fields; by small boys and old men, raw amateurs and millionaire professionals. It is a leisurely game that demands blinding speed; the only game in which the defense has the ball. It follows the seasons, beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime and ending with the hard facts of autumn.
Americans have played baseball for more than 200 years; while they conquered a continent, warred with each other and with enemies abroad, struggled over labor and civil rights, and with the meaning of freedom.
At its heart lie mythic contradictions: a pastoral game born in crowded cities, an exhilarating democratic sport that tolerates cheating, and has excluded as many as it has included. A profoundly conservative game that often manages to be years ahead of its time. It is an American Odyssey that links sons and daughters to fathers and grandfathers, and it reflects a host of age-old American tensions; between workers and owners, scandal and reform, the individual and the collective.
It is a haunted game in which every player is measured with the ghosts of those who have gone before. Most of all it is about time and timelessness, speed and grace, failure and loss, imperishable hope, and coming home.
The game’s greatest figures have come from everywhere: coal mines and college campuses, city slums and country crossroads. A brawling Irish immigrant’s son who for more than half a century preached a rough and scrambling brand of baseball in which anything went so as long victory was achieved; and his favorite player, a college-educated right-hander so uniformly virtuous that millions of schoolboys worshipped him as The Christian Gentleman.
A mill hand who could neither read nor write who might have been one of the game's greatest heroes if temptation had not proved too great. A flamboyant federal judge who at first saved baseball from a scandal that threatened to destroy it, but later became an implacable enemy of reform.
A miner’s son from Commerce, Oklahoma, who made himself the game’s most powerful switch-hitter despite 17 seasons of ceaseless pain. A tight-fisted Methodist, ‘a cross’, one sportswriter said, ‘between a statistician and an evangelist’, who profoundly changed the game twice. And there were those whose true greatness was never fully measured because of the stubborn prejudice that permeated the nation and its favorite game.
Two of baseball's best began life in rural Georgia: A swift and savage competitor who may have been the greatest player of all time, but whose uncontrollable rage in the end made him more enemies than friends; and another no less fierce competitor who, because he managed to hold his temper, made professional baseball a truly national pastime more than a century after it was born.
- 1st Inning - Our Game
- This inning serves as an introduction to the game and the series, and covers baseball's origins and the game as it evolved prior to the 20th century.
Original airdate: Sunday, September 18, 1994.2
- 2nd Inning - Something Like A War
- This inning covers approximately 1900 to 1910, and includes the formation of the American League and its integration with the National League, culminating in the establishment of the World Series, as well as the emergence of the game's first great star, Christy Mathewson, which helps to clean up baseball's image as a rowdy, brawling game. Ty Cobb is discussed in depth (the title of this inning comes from one of his many quotes). Many of the quotes used in this inning and of the other early innings are taken from Lawrence S. Ritter's The Glory of Their Times.
Original airdate: Monday, September 19, 1994.2
- 3rd Inning - The Faith of Fifty Million People
- This inning covers approximately 1910 to 1920, and follows baseball as it goes through its greatest era of popularity yet. It heavily focuses on the Black Sox Scandal, taking its title from a line in the novel The Great Gatsby. The line refers to how easy it was for gamblers to tamper with the faith that people put in the game's fairness.
Original airdate: Tuesday, September 20, 1994.2
- 4th Inning - A National Heirloom
- This inning covers approximately 1920 to 1930, and focuses on baseball's recovery from the Black Sox Scandal, giving much of the credit to the increase in power hitting throughout the game, led by its savior Babe Ruth. The title comes from what sports writers called Ruth. During an interview given to MLB Network during the series' re-airing in 2009, Burns stated that he originally wanted to title the 4th Inning, "That Big Son-of-a-Bitch", a name given to Ruth by many in the game during that era.
Original airdate: Wednesday, September 21, 1994.2
- 5th Inning - Shadow Ball
- This inning covers approximately 1930 to 1940. While Burns has not shied away from discussing the plight of African-Americans up to this point, a great deal of this inning covers the Negro Leagues, and the great players and organizers who were excluded from the Major Leagues. Also the episode deals with organized Baseball's response to the Great Depression, as well as the sad decline of its most iconic star, Babe Ruth, and also the emergence of new heroes, like Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Joe DiMaggio.
Original airdate: Thursday, September 22, 1994.2
- 6th Inning - The National Pastime
- This inning covers approximately 1940 to 1950. The emphasis here is on baseball finally becoming what it had always purported to be: A national game. As African-Americans are finally permitted for good into Major League Baseball, led by Jackie Robinson. This inning also looks at how the game was influenced as a result of World War II and how the game became, more than ever, a symbol of America itself.
Original airdate: Sunday, September 25, 1994.2
- 7th Inning - The Capital of Baseball
- This inning covers approximately 1950 to 1960. Burns emphasizes the greatness of the three teams based in New York (the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and Brooklyn Dodgers). This inning also covers one of baseball's golden eras and how America's own changes, such as leaving the crowded cites and heading west to more open suburbs, causes baseball to painfully follow.
Original airdate: Monday, September 26, 1994.2
- 8th Inning - A Whole New Ballgame
- This inning covers approximately 1960 to 1970. As the nation underwent turbulent changes, baseball was not immune, as Babe Ruth's beloved record of 60 home runs in a season is threatened by a sullen and complicated player, Roger Maris, and for the first time in decades, pitchers, led by stars Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, dominate the game. The loss of home run power and betrayal to the game's past, combined with the meteoric rise of football, cause many to turn their back on baseball. Expansion and labor are major topics in this inning.
Original airdate: Tuesday, September 27, 1994.2
- 9th Inning - Home
- The final inning covers approximately 1970 to 1993. While baseball survived the 1960s, the changes were not over, and in some ways its most bitter conflicts were just beginning. Major topics include the formation of the players' union, the owners' collusion, free agency, and drug, as well as gambling scandals. However, the game manages to win back the hearts of many with such moments as the excitement of the 1975 World Series and the return of the New York Yankees to dominance. The documentary ends with an ironic boast that baseball (and indirectly the World Series) had survived wars, depressions, pandemics, and numbers of scandals and thus could never be stopped. The 1994 World Series, the series to be played the year the film first aired on PBS, was cancelled due to a players' strike. This marked the first time since 1904 that the World Series was not played. It also focuses on the first non-American team to win the World Series, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the first win by a black manager, Cito Gaston.
Original airdate: Wednesday, September 28, 1994.2
At a preview screening of his 2007 documentary The War, Ken Burns spoke of the possibility of coming up to date in the history of baseball with a "Tenth Inning" episode of his Baseball documentary.3 This was officially confirmed by Burns in an MLB Network interview, and later to the NBC LA web site during the winter Television Critics Association media tour January 8. It aired in Fall 2010 and covered the period from the 1994 strike through the 2009 season.
During in-game coverage of a Texas Rangers game during July 2009, Ken was interviewed, and said the Tenth Inning would air "about a year from now" on PBS. He also went on to state that it would be two two-hour programs. One would be the "top of the 10th", and the other would be the "bottom of the 10th". He also said that "the good Lord willing", there would be an 11th Inning and a 12th Inning some years down the road. His aim is to air the 11th Inning in 2020 opening with Armando Galarraga.4 Burns also said that Baseball is the only one of his documentaries to which he was ever interested in doing a "sequel" (of sorts).
The Tenth Inning premiered on PBS on September 28, 2010. The Inning was broken into two halves airing on September 28 and 29, 2010 and October 5, 2010. The documentary discussed the major stories of the last fifteen years in baseball. It focuses heavily on examining the Steroid era and the many players that got caught up in it, but also discusses other major issues in baseball, such as how baseball rebounded from the 1994 strike largely thanks to the selflessness of Cal Ripken Jr. and other players, the return to prominence of the Yankees, the influence of international players (specifically Dominican and Japanese players) on the game, and the drama of the 2003 and 2004 American League Championship Series, which helps baseball, even in during the midst of America's greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, become as popular as it has ever been.
As a postscript, Marcos Breton, the Sacramento Bee writer who was interviewed extensively during the film finally realized his boyhood dream of watching the Giants win their first World Championship in San Francisco shortly after the film premiered on PBS.
The documentary is made available to local PBS stations to air as part of their programming. Usually these can be found on weekends or during pledge drives.
Starting in 2009 the series also can be found on MLB Network Sunday nights at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT. These airings include commercial breaks which stretch the run time of each episode from around 1 hour to 2 or even 3 depending on how many breaks MLB Network adds to the episode. As the series was intended to air commercial-free on public television the breaks are often quite abrupt. The first episode to air on the network also had utterances of the word "nigger" (as read from first person accounts or quotes from the time) bleeped out, despite the offensive language of the episode being heard uncensored on over-the-air PBS stations for years. Later episodes dropped this censoring but added a disclaimer at the beginning of the program warning that it contained offensive language.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of people not involved in baseball who were interviewed in the documentary:
- Arthur Ashe, tennis player
- Roger Angell, editor and writer, The New Yorker
- Mike Barnicle, writer
- Thomas Boswell, Washington Post columnist.
- Howard Bryant, writer, ESPN
- Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York (and a former prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system)
- Robert Creamer, writer, Sports Illustrated
- Billy Crystal, actor, comedian
- Gerald Early, Professor of Modern Letters, Washington University, St. Louis
- Shelby Foote, writer and historian
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, writer and historian
- Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist
- Donald Hall, poet and 14th U.S. Poet Laureate
- Charley McDowell, journalist
- Willie Morris, writer
- Daniel Okrent, public editor, The New York Times
- Thomas Phillip "Tip" O'Neill, Jr., former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
- George Plimpton, writer
- Shirley Povich, sports writer, Washington Post
- John Sayles, filmmaker (most notably Eight Men Out)
- Studs Terkel, writer and journalist
- John Thorn, historian
- Tom Verducci, writer, Sports Illustrated and television commentator on TBS and the MLB Network
- George Will, political commentator
The following is a non-exhaustive list of people who were more involved in the game of baseball, and were interviewed in the documentary:
- Hank Aaron
- Red Barber, broadcaster
- A.B. "Happy" Chandler, Commissioner of Baseball
- Bob Costas, broadcaster
- Charles "Chub" Feeney, executive, New York/San Francisco Giants
- Donald Fehr, MLBPA President
- Bob Feller
- Curt Flood
- Milt Gaston
- Billy Herman
- Bill "the Spaceman" Lee
- Mickey Mantle
- Pedro Martinez
- Marvin Miller, union organizer for Major League players
- Buck O'Neil
- Double Duty Radcliffe
- Jimmie Reese
- Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie Robinson
- Mamie Ruth, sister of Babe Ruth
- Bud Selig, Commissioner
- Vin Scully, broadcaster
- Clyde Sukeforth, scout and manager, Brooklyn Dodgers
- Ichiro Suzuki
- Joe Torre
- Omar Vizquel
- Ted Williams
The following did voices of characters in Baseball:
- Adam Arkin
- Philip Bosco, as Albert Spalding and Ban Johnson
- Keith Carradine
- David Caruso
- Billy Crystal
- John Cusack
- Ossie Davis
- Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Ed Harris
- Julie Harris
- Gregory Hines
- Anthony Hopkins, as Henry Chadwick and George Bernard Shaw
- Jesse Jackson
- Derek Jacobi
- Garrison Keillor as Walt Whitman
- Alan King
- Stephen King
- Delroy Lindo
- Al Lewis
- Amy Madigan
- Arthur Miller
- Michael Moriarty
- Paul Newman
- Tip O'Neill
- Gregory Peck, as Kid Gleason, Chicago White Sox manager (1919–1923); as Connie Mack, Philadelphia Athletics manager (1901–1950)
- Jody Powell, as Ty Cobb
- LaTanya Richardson
- Jason Robards, as John McGraw, Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Harry Frazee
- Jerry Stiller
- Studs Terkel, as Hugh Fullerton, who he played in the movie Eight Men Out.
- John Turturro
- Eli Wallach
- M. Emmet Walsh
- Paul Winfield
The entire series was released on a ten-disc DVD set on September 28, 2004, with each inning on a separate disc and a tenth disc of unaired material titled Extra Innings featuring a making of Baseball among other features.
A revised DVD set, now including The Tenth Inning, was released on October 5, 2010, as was a standalone Blu-ray disc containing only The Tenth Inning.
- Hits, Runs and Memories - New York Times