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Featured TV on DVD Review: Baseball: The Tenth Inning

October 9th, 2010

Baseball: The Tenth Inning - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

In 1994, Ken Burns' made a nine-part Baseball documentary aptly named, Baseball. In the 16 years since that series was made, a lot has changed in the game, so the documentarian has revisited his previous film with a two-part addendum called The Tenth Inning, which looks at baseball for the past two decades.

The Show

The two-disc set houses the two-part, four-hour documentary that deals with the recent history of baseball, starting at a real low point, the 1994 strike. It also talks about the rise of the super hitters, which were not powered by raw talent as much as by chemical enhancements. With this information, it makes watching so many records fall less compelling. Watching the rise of the Yankees was even worse. I honestly don't know how someone could cheer for the Yankees, unless you live in New York City. I admit, I'm a huge homer. I cheer for my home team in every sport I pay attention to, and when there's no home team for me to cheer for, I pick the closest team. (So for baseball, it's the Seattle Mariners.) I'll have secondary teams I cheer for (in the NHL I used to cheer for the Hartford Whalers) but I just can not understand cheering for a team that spends so much money that it hurts the sport as a whole.

So for much of the first part, it's one horrible event after another. There are some interesting stories, like the rise of Latino baseball players.

Disc two starts at the beginning of this century, which includes the rise of the super pitchers like Manny Ramirez and Randy Johnson, and the unbelievable longevity of Roger Clemens. (Steroids.) One of the few superstars of the current era I'm more or less sure is not on steroids is Ichiro, as his skill doesn't come from hitting home run after home run, but from hitting the baseball into the gaps for small hits. Lots of small hits. Ichiro opened the door for a lot of Asian players.

The second part also deals a lot with the attacks on 9/11 and how baseball played a part in helping heal the wounds.

There's also a major emphasis of the steroid scandal of the past decade, which of course was a open secret for a long time, but it became a lot more open and a lot less of a secret during this time frame, although it hasn't stopped. It taints every single personal achievement in the sport. Meanwhile, money taints every team achievement, as the gap between the richest teams and the poorest teams are too large to ignore. (As of 2010, the Yankees are outspending the Pirates by a nearly six-to-one margin.)

Overall, if you are a fan of Baseball, then this documentary is a must see. And if you own the previous release, this one is worth adding to your collection.

On the other hand, if you are more ambivalent about baseball as a sport, it can be a little frustrating at times. First of all, baseball wasn't invented, it evolved from previous sports. Secondly, baseball isn't the only sport that embraces its history. What's the name of the trophy given to the team that wins the world series? The Commissioner's Trophy. Lots of history in that name. On the other hand, the NHL awards the Stanley Cup to its champions. NFL hands out the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The NBA hands out the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy. (Yeah, I had to look up that name.) Check out the individual trophies the NHL awards. Art Ross Trophy, Maurice Richard Trophy, Jack Adams Award, Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, Vezina Trophy, etc. There's history to these names. The only people who can claim baseball is the only sport to embraces its history are people who have never studied the others sports.

Oh, and when someone breaks into the umpires' dressing room to steal an illegal bat, he's not a hero, he's a cheat.

The Extras

Extras on the first disc include a 17-minute interview with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. There are also just over a dozen deleted scenes / interviews about star players. Disc two is loaded with more than an hour of deleted scenes.

There are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, while the video and audio presentations are... let's just say they are mixed. The documentary is divided between talking heads, archival interviews, and game footage. This means most of the time the filmmakers had zero control over the quality of the video and audio. And the times that they did were the talking head segments, which will never be visually impressive enough to be a major selling point. On the other hand, there is some footage from some very, very recent games that were shot in High Definition and that looks great. Also, it only costs $2 more, so you can hardly complain that you are not getting your money's worth when you grab the Blu-ray over the DVD.

The Verdict

Baseball: The Tenth Inning is a very well made documentary about a sport that unfortunately has had a rough two decades. Almost every individual achievement is tainted by the specter of steroids, while the economics have made compelling underdog stories nearly a thing of the past. That said, if you are a fan of the previous documentary and own it, then this is also worth picking up, while the Blu-ray is the better deal over the DVD.

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