erik lundegaard

Top of the 10th

So that's our narrative: The rise and fall of Barry Bonds.

Bummer.

As soon as I heard about “The Tenth Inning,” Ken Burns' extra-inning look at what's transpired in major league baseball since his “Baseball” documentary premiered on PBS in September 1994, I wondered how Burns was going to do it. How do you handle this last 18 years of baseball history? Last night, in part one, we got part of our answer.

Barry Bonds will be viewed as a tragic figure. Talking heads will make excuses for him. He did what he did because his dad played in the South and was called names, or because young Barry overheard his godfather Willie Mays telling his father Bobby to look out for no. 1, or because “he didn't play the hero game,” or because too much attention was lavished on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in that crazy summer of '98 and so Barry, who knew he was better than these two guys, had to go out and get himself a swelled head. He had to go out and besmirch his bad name. And that's the tragedy of our baseball time.

Here's Allen Barra writing for The Daily Beast:

Bonds' trajectory in the National League is juxtaposed with that of Ken Griffey, Jr., the best player in the American League at this time, about whom there has never been a whisper of scandal.

Indeed. In the first half hour of the doc, we get 10 minutes on Bonds and one minute on Junior. That's the juxtaposition. Junior gets the cover but not the content.

Admittedly I'm biased in the matter. Admittedly the steroids scandal is the big story of baseball for the last 18 years. But: a) this seems to be rewarding monstrously bad behavior, and b) it still isn't doing the steroids scandal right.

How much time is spent on the McGwire/Sosa homerun chase? Another 10 minutes? Fifteen? And for how much of this time does Burns treat the HR chase as if it's a legitimate thing? Wow, look at those homeruns flying out. Wow, he broke Maris' record and kept going. Such excitement! Sure, we get the sidebar on Steve Wilstein and andro, and how no one wanted to know (including me), but then it's back to the homerun chase and all of those balls flying out of the yard. This feels wrong. It's as if Burns had spent as much time on the Cincinnati Reds fantastic upset over the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series, “one of the greatest upsets in World Series history,” as on the fact that the ChiSox threw the Series.

The story is the fix. It's not what resulted from the fix.

Worse, everyone's making excuses for these guys. Among the talking heads, only Bob Costas—who chastises the Major League Baseball Players Association for ignoring steroids for so long, to the detriment of its clean players—waggles a mild finger. The others shrug or joke or make grand pronouncements about our culture: “You'd do it,” “This is the time we live in,” etc. Steroids, in Burns' vision, is like the curve ball, the '51 Giants, Gaylord Perry, Albert Belle's corked bat. Everyone cheats.

Except everyone doesn't cheat. Some players presumably didn't down that Jose Canseco milkshake.

Burns keeps doing this. He gives us the narratives of the time, many of which I didn't agree with at the time, as if they are still the true narratives.

Remember all of that fan anger after the '95 strike? How fans said they weren't coming back? We know they came back. But their anger, which, to me, always felt prissy and spoiled and misdirected at the players, who didn't want a salary cap thrust upon them by ownership, is still seen as legitimate. Excuses are still made for it. Hell, it's almost celebrated.

And what brought these fans back? Who “saved” baseball? Again, Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak in September '95 is trotted out without any statistical backup whatsoever. I guess it's just a feeling people had. I guess it just makes a good narrative.

And did the '98 homerun chase really distract us from the Monica Lewinsky scandal? I thought the Monica Lewinsky scandal was distracting us from other, more important matters. I thought that was its point. How many distractions does a mighty nation need anyway?

And, seriously, all that time on the '96 Yankees and not one shot of Jeffrey Maier?

Who are some of these talking heads anyway? Does Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton really deserve all of that air time? Should the doc really have begun with Keith Olbermann intoning, forever intoning? Where's Bill James, Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski? Where are my guys?

Not to mention all of that “The X of Y from Z” thing: “The fifth child of an Italian immigrant...”; “The shy son of a dentist from southern California...” Burns is turning into a parody of himself.

Apologies for the rant. We're only through the top of the 10th. Maybe the home team can rally.

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Posted at 07:57 AM on Wed. Sep 29, 2010 in category Baseball  

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