Any documentary that Ken Burns has done has been marvelous. He is thorough (maybe to a fault in some opinions) and brings out everything interesting about the subject he is covering. Whether he is presenting war or Frank Lloyd Wright or jazz music he will make the viewer care about the subject.
Burns had previously made one of his lengthy documentaries about the as American as apple pie sport of baseball. The 1990 documentary was an encompassing look at the history of the beloved sport. This one is only four hours long and is like a companion piece to it. It deals with the more recent history of the sport going back to only the last 20 years for its scope. He shows us the World Series, the best players, rivalries, and the scandals that cropped up.
The first disc (Top of the Tenth) covers the years from 1992-1999. During these years there was a very disruptive strike over the usual sticking points of money and power. Due to this baseball is brought to the brink of collapse. And it is particularly interesting for Montreal viewers to see the section on how the strike in 1994 probably led to the franchise leaving the city a few years later. In 1994 the Expos were probably the best team in baseball and in first place. The strike that began in August 1994 and continued until April 1995 wiped out the entire season along with any chance that the low payroll of the Montreal Expos could pick things up the next season. The Expos never made it back to the playoffs, fans stopped coming to games and the rest is history, as they say.
Other subjects covered on the first disc are the impact that Latino players began to have on the game, the single season home run record pursuit by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire in 1998, how the Atlanta Braves and their pitching staff dominated the National League, the iron man streak of Cal Ripken Jr., the huge talent of Barry Bonds, and the revival of the New York Yankees.
Disc two called the Bottom of the Tenth covers the years from 1999-2009. After the turn of the century in baseball the steroid scandal became the biggest headline grabber. All the accomplishments of this period have the cloud of suspicion hanging over them. Warranted or not. Cries for records being struck from the books were heard loud and often. The integrity of the game itself is doubted big time.
Other topics covered include: it is a decade of power hitting, but still a few pitchers like Pedro Martinez are able to dominate hitters, Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki comes to MLB and is a hitting machine, Barry Bonds becomes one of the best hitters of all time, after 9/11 baseball provides Americans with an outlet, the epic battles between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the lack of attention paid to Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's career home run record, and baseball being more popular than ever.
While this is not as all all-encompassing as Burns' previous documentary on baseball it is still interesting and a nice summing up of the last 20 years. It is unfortunate that so much time was spent on steroids as it didn't allow for much focus on great (clean?) players like Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, Carl Crawford, and Ken Griffey Jr. Also just fleeting references are made about powerhouse teams like the Oakland A's, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays. Plus only one player (Pedro Martinez) is interviewed. Odd!
Despite the holes, you are afforded a great opportunity, whether you are a big fan of the sport or not (as I am not a huge fan, but still enjoyed it), to reminisce about the most recent MLB memories. Burns gives you an inside look into the passion behind the sport (by players and fans), the suffering that went on due to the strike and the excitement that the game still generates over 100 years into its existence.
-Interview with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick