Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns
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Here is the story of America's national pastime from master storyteller Ken Burns. It is an epic overflowing with heroes and hopefuls, scoundrels and screwballs. A saga spanning the quest for racial justice, the clash of labor and management, the immigrant experience, the transformation of popular culture, and the enduring appeal of the national pastime.
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Each of the series’ 10 episodes, called an “inning,” covers approximately one decade in the history of the game. In every episode, viewers are introduced to the people who had the greatest impact on the game during that era, as well as the greatest games, and the key events of the times.
“Baseball” pays particular attention to five of the oldest and most legendary major league teams: the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox. Throughout their long and storied past, each of these teams had its own set of peculiar triumphs, tragedies, and curses that have carried down to the present day.
“Baseball” isn’t just a sugarcoated showcase of past stars and glories. This series makes a sober and in-depth examination of many of the grittier and seamier aspects of the game. “Baseball” unflinchingly explores the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919; the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” among team owners that prohibited African American baseball players from playing in the major leagues for over 60 years, resulting in the creation and development of the Negro Leagues; the long fight against the hated reserve clause that kept players bound to one team for life; and the use of performance enhancing drugs by players in the years of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
I think the best episode in the entire series is “Inning 6: The National Pastime (1940-1950.}” In this long and poignant episode, Burns tells in compelling detail of how the color barrier in Major League Baseball was finally broken. In 1946, Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league deal, thus defying the express will of team owners. Rickey explained to Robinson, in a long and profanity-laced diatribe, what he was likely to face in the way of abuse, both verbal and possibly even physical, from other racist players, managers, and fans. Robinson promised not to retaliate against all forms of racist abuse for three years. In April 1947, Robinson became the first African American to play major league baseball in over 60 years. He forever changed the game for the better, making it truly the “national pastime.”
I have owned a home video copy of “Baseball ever since it was first released on VHS tape in 1994. After I finally wore out my videotape set, I bought the remastered version of “Baseball” on DVD, a set that includes “The Tenth Inning.” “Baseball” is also available as a Prime selection on Amazon video. I think “Baseball” is the finest documentary ever produced about the game I love so much. Most highly recommended.