Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sports Flicks: Baseball

Inspired by Mock's recent comment, I finally finished Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns last night. I first started watching a couple summers ago, checking the DVDs out of the public library. The Tenth Inning is currently saved on the DVR list but I haven't watched yet.

Image via Sittin' in the Catbird Seat

The epic documentary is masterful, per usual for Mr. Burns. A lot of the stories presented are well-known to even the casual fan but plenty are not. Personally, I am particularly intrigued by both the 19th century game and the Negro Leagues. The highlight of the series, for me, was the Jackie Robinson story. I also really enjoyed The Eighth Inning which covers the '60s. Any montage featuring both Jimi Hendrix and Sandy Koufax is alright by me.

Photo via World Changers

As it turns out, there was never really a pure game. In the midst of our current grumblings over steroids and 10-figure salaries, there seems a yearning for the good old days. But there were always problems in big league ball: violence, cheating, gambling, racism, exploitation, drugs, alcohol, you name it. The game was never free of sin and likely never will be. There have been eras when the powers within baseball were better at sweeping the problems under the rug but they were still there.

Baseball is difficult to watch as an Orioles fan. The features on Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson serve to remind that my team was, for a decent period, the greatest franchise in the game. The story of the 1979 World Series is particularly bittersweet now as both participants - Orioles and Pirates - have since endured so many terrible seasons. I do realize my troubles are nothing compared to the frustrations of Cubs or Indians fans. The cycle of success and failure is part of the game, too, I suppose.

Photo via Baltimore Orioles

Ken Burns has reassured me about the current balance of power in baseball. He reminded me that between 1978 and 1987, ten different teams won the World Series over ten years (Yankees, Pirates, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Mets, Twins): the longest such streak in the game. We have actually had six different champs over the past six years (White Sox, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees, Giants) - not too bad. In fact, nine different teams have won over the past eleven seasons. Perhaps there is greater parity than I have realized.

Despite all of the myriad problems over the decades, baseball has ample fuel for its great pride. Ken Burns has done a great service to the game with his film chronicle. I look forward to watching the next installment.


  1. Have you read Roger Khan's book "The Boys Of Summer" ?
    Coming from the UK I don't know a lot about Baseball but I thought his recollections of Jackie Robinson and the 1950's Brooklyn Dodgers made for superb reading.

    1. I have not but with your recommendation, it's going on the to-read list. Are you an ex-pat or do you live in Britain? I have a Welsh friend and we recently had the baseball/cricket discussion. Considered objectively, they're both really very strange games - not nearly as intuitive as football (yours, not ours) or rugby. Neither really helps much in understanding the other, either. If you're up for more baseball books, "Moneyball" is excellent. Nick Hornby gave it a good review, though he admitted to not understanding much of it. I have yet to see the film.