Good Point, Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning insists that baseball is still great, except for that goddamned Barry Bonds | Outside Features | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Outside » Outside Features

Good Point, Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning insists that baseball is still great, except for that goddamned Barry Bonds

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We're not supposed to talk about Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa - unless remarking about the sudden and inexplicable change in Sosa's skin color - because these are the guys we collectively decided, with the help of Congress, ruined baseball. Yet I doubt anyone could watch Baseball: The Tenth Inning, the continuation of bowl-cut filmmaking wizard Ken Burns' PBS documentary following the history of America's alleged pasttime, and not remember the absolute wonder that surrounded the 1998 homerun race.


We've been told to forget about this piece of baseball history, but Burns put the storied Summer of Steroids™ front and center in the two-part documentary, reviving some of the magic of the 500-foot, andro-aided dingers that rocketed out of the park more often than Seinfeld reruns aired on TBS. Yeah, even the batboys and peanut vendors were juicing in those days, but it was amazing - until it wasn't. And Burns reminds us of that, too, which is kind of a bummer because, after all, we've all done an incredible job of sweeping this into the "let's forget about that" bin along with Vietnam, Crystal Pepsi and Donald Rumsfeld.

Now this isn't to say that steroids are a good thing, because they're not. They make your nards smaller, your head larger and your athletic career a lie. And they also almost made everyone give up on baseball, which is part of what Burns tells us in this four-plus hour film. But he also focuses heavily on Barry Bonds, the man who is, according to statistics and a few thousand stubborn people in the Bay Area, the greatest home-run hitter to ever live.

The Barry Bonds narrative carries throughout the documentary and that's a problem for a film that, I presume, is meant to glorify baseball. Why? Because Barry Bonds has, almost impossibly, become the Chumbawamba of American sports. The same friends who claim to have never shouted the phrase "I get knocked down, but I get up again" in 1996 are also the dudes who claim to have never been in awe of Bonds' penchant for launching balls into the San Francisco Bay every seven swings. Burns points this out, kind of, but also reminds us of what a total a-hole Bonds was for the entirety of his career as both a baseball player and as a perjury defendant.

Again, The Tenth Inning's intention is to take the '94 strike (which the documentary indirectly blames for killing the Montreal Expos), the steroid scandal and the salary boom that took place during that same period, lay them out on the table and say, "Yeah, this stuff is pretty lame, but damn it, baseball is still great, ain't it kids?"

But Burns has a point. After watching an overview of what went down between 1993 and 2003, it's hard to imagine that anyone could still believe in baseball. But for some reason we do, at least if Ken Burns reminds us to.

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