Review: Ken Burns newest documentary

Ken Burns’ The Tenth Inning
Part 1: Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. (encore at 9 p.m.)
Part 2: Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. (encore at 9 p.m.)

What the HELL is Ken Burns thinking! With about a week to go in the Major League baseball season – with division and wild card races at a fever pitch – Mr. Burns has decided to release “The 10th Inning” addition to his ridiculously successful series “Baseball.” After watching the just the first two hours(Top of the 10th) on a weekend when my own beloved Atlanta Braves were in the processes of sweeping the New York Mets to remain in the thick of the NL Wildcard race — I was left with such a baseball adrenaline rush that I felt the need to canvas the neighborhood to see if anyone wanted to play a little catch or maybe find a vacant lot to get a game going.

No I’m not kidding. This series needs a warning label. WARNING: Watching “The 10th Inning” could leave you lightheaded and in need peanuts and crackerjacks.

I think one reason for the strong emotion that washed over me as I watched this 4-hour addendum — came in part from the fact that I was reliving some of the most important baseball memories in my life. While Burns’ “9th Inning” from the 1994 documentary relived my formative baseball years (Steve Carlton, Fernando Mania, the wizard of OZ…etc ) “The 10th Inning” is packed with some of my most loved players, teams and moments. It also feels the least like a history. I need innings 1 through 8 to learn about the greats that came and went before I was born. The 9th and new 10th innings instead provide a key to unlock my own baseball memories. I often found myself watching a key game and saying, “…I remember what I was doing then.”

Now the show isn’t all fun and games as it lays out the game from 1994 to 2009. It also has the arduous task of tackling major league baseball’s steroid era. It shows the abuse and overuse of performance enhancers in a very balanced way…almost to the point of sugar coating how it all began. There is also plenty of blame spread around — from the players union, to the owners, to the players and even the fans – who labeled Barry Bonds a cheater while at the same packing every stadium he played in to see if he’d hit another home run. When talking about steroids — there are thousands of opinions to choose from — and “The 10th Inning” gives each a voice.

Overall “The 10th Inning” does a fabulous job of retelling the stories that are freshest in our baseball minds. With its content coming from the most recent events — in an age of ESPN — the show could have felt like a rehash that didn’t provide any new information. But Burns easily overcomes this obstacle. As each story is laid out — there is at the very least a single nugget of new information that makes hearing the story again worthwhile. But most of the time — the interviews, still pictures and game footage provide enough raw emotion and great storytelling to satisfy the fan in all of us for years.

About the reviewer: Ben Philpott covers state politics and policy for KUT News and the Texas Tribune and has been an Atlanta Braves fan since 1989. When he’s not at the Capitol, Ben can be found at home teaching his two girls the finer points of baseball and wondering why the younger one has decided to become an Astros fan