TV Review: Ken Burns’ ‘Tenth Inning’ lacks clear conclusions on baseball

By Duncan Bryer

Baseball is a sport of closure. Unlike other sports, there is neither a clock nor a specific amount of points a team must score. You need to get the other team out 27 times and, if upon doing so, you have scored more than your opponent, you win. And if both teams have the same score after the regulation nine innings, the game adds extra innings until a winner is decided.

This idea of closure in baseball is the basis of Ken Burns’ documentary “The Tenth Inning,” a continuation of his 1992 documentary project, “Baseball.” From drug scandals to shattered records to broken curses, there is much to cover in a documentary about the history of baseball since the early 1990s — so much so that the documentary has been split into a two-part series.

In part one, Burns details the history of baseball from where he left off in his 1992 project, emphasizing various recurring aspects such as the rapidly increasing amount of home runs, the 1994 players’ strike, the international expansion of the game and the disparity between the competitive potential of big and small market teams.

Burns illustrates these vicissitudes both thoroughly and enthusiastically — his love for the game is almost palpable when watching both installments of the documentary. Throughout the first half, Burns explores interesting threads and subplots that leave the viewer anxiously anticipating part two.

The second part, however, unfolds problematically. “The Bottom of the Tenth”—as the second half is cleverly titled—is supposed to provide the sense of closure that Burns so evidently covets in baseball. However, the documentary leaves the viewer unsatisfied as many questions remain unanswered.

Specifically, I was disturbed by how Burns seems to gloss over the negative elements of baseball’s history. He does not reflect on the deep lows and misfortunes of baseball with the harshness deserved. For example, in part one, Burns discusses at length the careers of Ken Griffey, Jr. and Barry Bonds. However, in part two, Burns refuses to reflect on the injustice of how Griffey — one of baseball’s most likeable stars — dwindled at his prime due to injury. Burns also skipped over exploring how Bonds shattered record after record as he pumped his once-modest frame with illegal steroids.

Burns also focuses on the disparity between small and large market teams, yet does not address the tragedy of teams like the now-defunct Montreal Expos, which became increasingly obsolete due to a lack of funds.

Burns should have concluded the “Bottom of the Tenth” by providing the viewer with closure while accurately addressing — even if at the expense of his own baseball-driven heart — these unfortunate truths.

Instead, Burns chose to celebrate his beloved Boston Red Sox’s first World Championship since 1918 and specifically, the team’s legendary triumph over the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. While these wins were certainly great for baseball and momentous achievements in sports, the idea that they are the concluding messages to the last fifteen years of baseball leaves me unsatisfied (then again, I happen to be a Yankee fan).

I believe that Burns’ undying loyalty to the Red Sox, in the midst of its most triumphant era, colored much of his perspective and distracted his ability to empathize with the state of the game as a whole. For those of us outside of Red Sox Nation, there is still uncertainty on the direction of the game today, and therefore a lack of closure.

It looks like we will have to go into extra innings to decide the final outcome. As he has been for the past 15 years, Burns will be ready, scorecard in hand.

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