(2010) The four-hour PBS program by now eminent documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, narrated by Keith David, updates - "It's always the same, always changing," Thomas Boswell - their 1994 PBS series Baseball. "The Top of the Tenth" begins with Barry Bonds (nearly an hour of the program is devoted to the tenacious, tough-minded Mr Bonds and the San Francisco Giants), following his dad Bobby into the Major Leagues, leaving the Pirates to sign a six-year contract for $43 million with the Giants in 1993.
In his final game with Pittsburgh in the final game of the NL playoffs against the Atlanta Braves, Barry's throw from left field was too late to stop Sid Bream from scoring the winning run. From the introduction of Bonds everything seems connected - astronomical salaries for players, the confrontation of "millionaires vs billionaires" in 1994 (leading to two baseball words - "strikeout" and "walk" - turning into a curse: "walkout strike") that alienated fans, steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and inflated statistics.
There's much cause for disappointment with the national pastime during the past two decades; nevertheless, I relate well to writer and SF Giants fan for the past half century Marcos Breton's remark: "Why do I care so much?" The thrill isn't gone when I watch the game: "boys who have become men" on the diamond somehow turn men in their seats watching back into boys with big-league dreams.
In Pittsburgh Bonds wore #24 as did his godfather Willie Mays in a Giants uniform (in San Francisco Barry took his father's jersey number 25); Ken Griffey (with son Ken Jr formed another potent father-son combination) wore #24 with the Seattle Mariners.
Also featured in the program are Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr (longest consecutive string of games played); George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees and his manager Joe Torre (before winning a string of World Series championships, he'd had the longest streak of games played without participating in the fall classic); the invasion of Latin players ("more for less" with the most common names being Rodriguez, Martinez, and Perez), including Sammy Sosa; and the home-run derby between Mark McGwire and Sosa in 1998 as Bonds was accomplishing his never-before reached career feat of 400 homeruns and stolen bases for which he felt he didn't receive the recognition deserved.
"The Bottom of the Tenth" brings up some of the great pitchers - Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens ("super-human critter") - and position players - Ichiro Suzuki (who in the last week of the 2010 schedule added yet another season of 200 or more hits to his previous MLB record of nine consecutive years with the Seattle Mariners), Derek Jeter, Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez - while returning to the "juiced" balls and accusations against the players.
The symbol of the steroid era became Bonds ("most feared hitter who ever lived," says Tom Verducci), first with his smashing Mark McGwire's single-season home-run record of 70 with 73 (plus another record of 177 walks) in 2001, and then eclipsing (joylessly, disputably, largely without celebration outside of San Francisco) Hank Aaron's career record of round-trippers (755) in 2007 with 762.
Dramatic highlights from playoff and World Series games (several in extra innings), featuring the Boston Red Sox finally banishing the "Bambino's curse" and the wildcards of both leagues, Giants vs the Angels, in 2002. "Tragedy or triumph," "greed vs loyalty," Howard Bryant speaks for most baseball fans by saying: "The game is more important than …" all of the disappointments and distractions.
Among the commentators are Bon Costas, Mike Barnicle, Gary Hoenig, George Will, Keith Olbermann, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Daniel Okrent. Among other complaints of personalities, plays, & events left out of this documentary, for Colorado fans in particular, Burns and Novick may be regarded as remiss at neglecting the Colorado Rockies' winning streak of 21 out of 22 games in the final stretch of the 2007 season, which carried the team into the World Series.
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