- Too big to fail: Barry Bonds, in happier times, from Baseball: The Tenth Inning.
The play that marked the beginning of the end for Pirates fans is merely the beginning for Baseball: The Tenth Inning. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's forthcoming two-part, four-hour sequel to Burns' epic 1994 PBS series Baseball opens by rewinding the clock to Oct. 14, 1992. Lumbering Atlanta Braves first baseman Sid Bream beats home a throw from Pirates star left fielder Barry Bonds, securing a ninth-inning comeback and the pennant. Pirates management promptly dismantles the team, which hasn't had a winning season since. Bonds goes on to free-agent stardom in San Francisco, record home-run binges -- and steroid infamy. Famed documentarian Burns (The Civil War, The National Parks, et al.) thought The Throw the best lead-off for Tenth Inning, which chronicles the game since. The era ranks "among the most consequential in the history of the game," contends Burns, by phone from the lecture circuit in Chautauqua, N.Y. He cites the 1993 players' strike, the struggles of small-market clubs like the Pirates, the rise of Latino players and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry (the Sox being Burns' rooting interest). Then there's the late-1990s home-run bubble, now inextricably linked to the performance-enhanced controversy which arguably overshadows it all, and which Burns says Tenth Inning puts in perspective. Fans, he says, "tend to be moralistic, but superficial in our response to the steroid scandal." But, he notes, "We're a culture in which we advertise Viagra and Levitra and Cialis on daytime television ... and we're surprised -- shocked, shocked -- if our baseball players are also trying to improve?" Tenth Inning airs on WQED Sept. 28 and 29. Meantime, Burns himself continues his promo tour of major-league parks by throwing out the first pitch at PNC Park at the Pirates-Mets game on Sat., Aug. 21. He also consoles downcast Pirates fans. In baseball, "If you fail seven times out of 10, you're still a .300 hitter, and if you're there for 15 or 20 years, you're in the Hall of Fame," he says. "This game teaches you, unlike any other sport, more about loss than anything else. Loyalty to a team despite bad times is part of it."