'Tenth Inning' a treat for Sox, baseball fans

September, 28, 2010
9/28/10
1:37
PM ET
Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker from New Hampshire and unabashed Red Sox fan, devotes considerable coverage to his favorite team in "Tenth Inning," the sequel to his epic documentary "Baseball" airing over the next two nights on PBS (8 p.m.). Don't miss it.

Buck O'Neil, the presence that made "Baseball" so unforgettable, is absent from "Tenth Inning," O'Neil having died four years ago, a month before his 95th birthday. But Pedro Martinez is showcased as one of the narrative voices, a shrewd choice by Burns, as Martinez's intelligence, warmth and intensity provide some of the same emotional richness O'Neil did to the original. The tale of the Sox bookend years of failure and triumph are given a personal connective thread by former Globe columnist Mike Barnicle, who frames the story through the eyes of his children and his late mother, who, Barnicle recalls, used to sit on a porch in Fitchburg, Mass., her nylons rolled down, listening to the Sox on the radio and keeping score on a sheet of paper.

ESPN columnist and Dorchester native Howard Bryant also is featured prominently, particularly with his insights on the steroid era and Barry Bonds, who gets much more than the comic-book villain treatment he receives elsewhere. Burns gives considerable time to baseball's warts -- the '94 strike, the steroid era, the Congressional hearings, the Mitchell report -- but again, he displays a balance often missed in the wider debate.

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, whose knowledge of baseball runs the gamut from the arcane to the profound, offers his insights. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin makes an encore appearance in the Red Sox segments, describing how she often ran out of the room because she couldn't bear to watch impending doom, but learned, after the Red Sox's historic comeback against the Yankees, to be as brave as the team she so adored.

But in the end, "Tenth Inning" is another love letter to baseball from Burns, framed through the vivid photos and videos that he mixes like no other.

"What a wonderful touchstone to return to,'' the sage Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell says. "Always the same, always changing.''

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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