The Tenth Inning

I went to the screening of The Tenth Inning, the sequel to Ken Burns (and Lynn Novick’s) popular miniseries, Baseball. In a nutshell, the latest installment tells what happened after 1994, when baseball players went on strike.  They broke it  into 5 segments: the strike, the comeback (basically how Cal Ripken, Jr. saved baseball), globalization, the steroids era, and why people love baseball.  A few observations from the clips:

  • Bob Costas seemed like the only one who saw the forest in the trees about steroids.  He loves baseball, but objective.  I think baseball and casual fans were romanticized about the home runs during the steroids era and when the popularity of baseball boomed, almost all didn’t care about the consequences. I find that interesting.
  • I knew Ken Burns is a Red Sox fan, but his film partner, Lynn Novick, was a Yankees fan. How can the both coexist so well with deep-rooted interests.
  • The majority of the audience were Red Sox and Yankees fans and the last clip they show was from the 2003 ALCS where Aaron Boone hit a walk-off home run and put the Yankees to the World Series. There was some rooting and anguish from the Sawx fans.  It was fun and see a little glimpse of the rivalry.

The most intriguing part of the night was the Q & A discussion with Ken, Lynn, and ESPN.com writer Howard Bryant. They had discussions about all-time baseball players, steroids, and how to bring baseball back.  Two things that caught my attention:

  1. Burns ranked the steroid scandal third behind 1) segregation and 2) gambling. Burns reminded when baseball  started in the late 1800s, there were 80 years of segregation until Jackie Robinson came to the majors and the color barrier was broken. Gambling still lingers with the Black Sox scandal and Pete Rose. Steroids just happened recently and is mostly gone away in 20 years, which is an achievement.
  2. They mention Bud Selig that although he’s still an old-timer, he still advance baseball enough to keep people’s interest.  Buck O’Neill also got props from the panel and all three want O’Neill to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  3. I found one person who did not want to be a beat writer for the Washington Redskins: Howard Bryant. He got the job during Joe Gibbs second stint and had the job for 5 seconds and became an ESPN writer.  His real love was baseball, which goes to show people love baseball over football.

The Howard Bryant discussion lead me to think about baseball fans.  I have stated in the past that hockey is my number one sport I root for because of the fans and the game.  I haven’t changed that, but I’m appreciating baseball more and more since there is a team in D.C., and although the Nats stink, I’m still attracted to go to their game.

In hockey, the game is very exciting, the crowds are raucous, and every time the team scores, it is earned.  However, although hockey does have the most loyal fans, there’s something that push people away appreciating hockey either by watching TV and can’t see the puck or the hockey loyalist who establish guidelines on how to wear, what to wear, what to cheer, etc. In baseball, there’s some mystique to it no one understands. I appreciate hockey of what it is, but baseball seems to have an open-door policy that makes anyone a fan. In hockey, the only memory I will remember is who raised the Stanley Cup and when will the Caps get theirs. In baseball, I have several memories and most of which include the crappy Natinals out of nowhere.

To make Howard’s point, people appreciate football because it is the most interactive of the 4 sports (gambling, fantasy football, Red Zone, etc.), they appreciate basketball for the skill, and they appreciate hockey for the action and sportsmanship, but people appreciate baseball for an assortment of reasons. What baseball has that none the other sports have: randomness and romanticism.  I think this is what Burns and Novick were attempting in this sequel is with the steroids scandal, the strike and dwindling fans, why people look past that and still love baseball.

The full answer is on “The Tenth Inning”, which will be on September 28 and 29 on PBS. Check Your Local Listings.

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