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True Believer

Part One of “The 10th Inning,” Ken Burn’s two-part follow up to “Baseball” aired on PBS last night. “The Bottom of the 10th” is tonight.

I reviewed the show for SI.com. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. The Yankee Dynasty is represented nicely though I’m sure most of you wanted more (and there’s no sugar-coating Ken’s allegiance to the Red Sox, though it should also be noted that co-writer, producer and director, Lynn Novick, is a Yankee fan). The focus is on the ’96 Yanks, not ’98, a fair choice in terms of drama, though they didn’t mention Frank Torre.

There’s a ton on the Sox in “The Bottom of the 10th,” but Burns is never vicious–he doesn’t show the infamous slap play by Alex Rodriguez, for instance. I’d forgotten that David Ortiz won both Games 4 and 5 in ’04, man, totally blacked that out. This was the first time I’ve watched replays. Ortizzle’s name is noticeably missing from a list of stars associated with taking PEDS (Manny’s on it).

The baseball stuff is good. Plenty to debate, of course, but that’s fun part. Jonah Keri will be pleased that the ’94 Expos made the cut. I didn’t know from Mike Barnicle before watching the show and enjoyed his talking head interviews, even if they were ham-handed in spots. Then I read up on him and feel guilty for liking him so much.

But something felt off with the filmmaking. The Florentine films style—panning and fading over still photographs–is commonly known as “The Burns Effect.” I was talking to a friend recently who said, “How can you not jump the shark after you become a pre-set on iMovie?” I get his point but the Burns style doesn’t bother me because it works. You don’t look for every artist to be innovator, after all. I wouldn’t want Elmore Leonard to be anything but Elmore Leonard.

But I’m not sure that the Burns style  is ideally suited to journalism. Nothing is more frustating than the music. In “The 8th Inning” and “The 9th Inning,” Burns used period source music as a character in the story. But here, over and over again, I was distracted by the music selections. I thought they got in the way of the story. Most of the tracks aren’t bad pieces of music on their own, but they just don’t have much to do with the topic at hand. And they have nothing to do with what was on the radio at the time.

Burns does use James Brown and Tower of Power. This record from The Incredible Bongo Band opens the show:

P.E. and The Beastie Boys and the White Stripes are used but otherwise, there’s too much smooth jazz and strumming guitars, where songs like “Nothing Shocking,” by Jane’s Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of “Higher Ground,” or any number of radio hits would have been interesting choices. There’s cool cuts from the Red Garland Trio and Wynton Marsalis, but Burns misses out on using Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” in the Mariano Rivera segment, an oversight than can only be excused by budget considerations And even when music choices work thematically like with David Bowie’s “Fame,” they are obvious, not to mention dated.

But that’s me. And I expect fireworks from Burns and company every time out. Still, “The 10th Inning” is certainly worth watching.

I’m curious to know what you think. Charlie Pierce weighed in this morning, and here is the Times’ review (which borders on being mean).

Oh, and over at Deadspin, dig this memoir piece I wrote about working for Burns back in the spring of 1994:

Ken got a kick out of turning people on to the things that moved him. When Willie Morris appeared in episode five of Baseball, talking about listening to games on the radio, I asked Ken who he was, and that was my introduction to Morris and his classic memoir, North Toward Home. I found a copy immediately and the book made a lasting impression on me. Ken was an avid music fan and hipped me to Lester Young and Booker T and the M.G.’s. During our car ride north, I tried to get him to dig some rap records — I remember playing him “Passin’ Me By” by the Pharcyde — but he couldn’t get past the lack of melody. Then, he took out a cassette and played what he called the best version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was Marvin Gaye, singing at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, and Ken was right.

[Photo Credit: J. Parthum]


1 rbj   ~  Sep 29, 2010 2:41 pm

'04? What was '04?

2 bp1   ~  Sep 29, 2010 3:05 pm

[1] What it should have been was the last time Javy Vasquez pitched in Yankee Stadium wearing a home uniform.

But no .....

3 Shaun P.   ~  Sep 29, 2010 3:19 pm

[1] TiVo (tee-vo) noun - 1. Fantastic device that lets me watch "The Ten Inning" tomorrow night, when I don't have to work.
2. Stress-saving device that will let me skip right past all that stuff.

On a related note, when I heard about the film of Game 7 of the 1960 Serious being found the other day, I was ecstatic. I can't wait to watch that game, even though the ending is not good for Yankees fans, just because of its historical value. When my father, who was so upset over that loss he says he didn't read a newspaper for months, heard about the film, he commented on how of all the old games he'd like to see again, they find a complete copy of the one game he's spent the last 50 years thrilled he couldn't see again. =)

4 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 29, 2010 3:57 pm

I only caught the last 70-plus minutes of the Tenth Inning, so may not be qualified to give a review, but from what I saw, it was an adequate production. Of course, I enjoy watching just about anything that involves baseball, so that may be grading on a curve.

The biggest problem I had was it seems to rely on either the same voices from the original series, or at least the same type of voices. Quite frankly, I don’t want to see baseball according to the likes of Will, Barnicle, Boswell, Angel and Goodwin. When the topic is more distant, it’s easier to abide, but with more recent subject matter, they seem out of touch. Instead of returning to his bread and butter talking heads, Burns would have been wise to enlist commentary from a younger, more diverse pool of qualified candidates (guys like Keith Law, our own Mr. Belth and Tim Kurkjian come to mind).

The segments also seemed to be filled with cliché and hearsay. How does Burns know what was in Bonds’ head during 1998, for example? Also, if Torre brought an NL style of play to the Yankees, why did they rank at or below average in terms of SBs and sacrifices?

At best, the first segment glossed over the handful of years that it covered, but I think it did pick out most of the major points. By far, the best segment dealt with the rise of the Latin player, which is really the most significant development since 1994. Breton, whose Away Games is a must read for a baseball fan, was a particularly interesting commentator, and his emotion helped frame the segment. Probably the only broken ground comes from Burns’ look at the semi-pro games played in Brooklyn. I play fast pitch softball and you frequently come into contact with a player who once had pro aspirations. The juxtaposition of those who made it with those who did not was pretty powerful.

Otherwise, nothing new is really added by the documentary. When Burns created the original series, we were still basically living in a network/newspaper world. As a result, there was a freshness and uniqueness to the presentation. In the information age, however, Burns summary style is really just a rehash of what is available from countless other sources. Ironically, this transition was one of the main themes that Burns should have addressed (maybe he does in the next installment).

5 The Hawk   ~  Sep 29, 2010 4:12 pm

I don't see what being a preset on iMovie has to do with the style itself. It's not their fault Apple put that there. I always thought it was a function of making movies about stuff where there was little footage anyway.

6 RIYank   ~  Sep 29, 2010 5:27 pm

Via Chad Jennings, here's tonight's offering:

Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Marcus Thames DH
Austin Kearns LF
Francisco Cervelli C
Greg Golson CF

Interesting -- it's certainly not the B Team, but the bottom third of the order is the B Bottom. I expect to see the infield get the day off tomorrow. (Rob has had one day off since July.)

Also via LoHud: Sabathia will not get another start (this is pretty much mandatory since if he started Sunday he wouldn't be rested on Wednesday). Hughes probably won't get another start. Andy will pitch against Boston.

7 lroibal   ~  Sep 29, 2010 5:40 pm

I liked hearing Pedro say he was a fan of the home run race between McGuire and Sosa and would rush into the clubhouse after a game to get an update. That was an endearing side of Martinez I never saw.

8 lroibal   ~  Sep 29, 2010 5:51 pm

...and climbing in bed with his mother. Who knew he had a soft side?

A very nice review Alex.

9 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Sep 29, 2010 6:04 pm

Ken Burns...yawn...

That Marvin Gaye performance is astounding.

10 rbj   ~  Sep 29, 2010 7:07 pm

[6] They certainly will. Yankees have an off day tomorrow.

11 Raf   ~  Sep 29, 2010 10:12 pm

[7] That side of Pedro came out more often than not. It's unfortunate that he was vilified during his time with the Sox.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver