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Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns [11-Disc]
(Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, et al / 11-Disc Blu-ray / NR / 2021 / PBS)

Overview: The complete Emmy Award-winning story of Americas national pastime from master storyteller Ken Burns is now fully restored in high definition!

Baseball spans the quest for racial justice, the clash of labor and management, the immigrant experience, the transformation of popular culture and the enduring appeal of the national pastime.

DVD Verdict: Without a shadow of a doubt, Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns is Ken Burns quite BRILLIANT, and all encompassing television documentary series about the history of Americas national pastime.

Using the same innovative filmmaking style he pioneered in his earlier documentary The Civil War, Burns traces the history of the game of baseball from its beginnings in the 1840s until 1994, when this documentary series was first broadcast. (An additional episode, entitled The Tenth Inning, updated the history of the game to 2009 and is all the more important now to the set, given this is a magnificently restored and remastered release.)

Each of the series 10 episodes, called an inning, covers approximately one decade in the history of the game. In every episode, viewers are introduced to the people who had the greatest impact on the game during that era, as well as the greatest games, and the key events of the times.

Baseball pays particular attention to five of the oldest and most legendary major league teams: the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox.

Throughout their long and storied past, each of these teams had its own set of peculiar triumphs, tragedies, and curses that have carried down to the present day.

Baseball is not just a sugarcoated showcase of past stars and glories. This series makes a sober and in-depth examination of many of the grittier and seamier aspects of the game.

Baseball unflinchingly explores the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919; the so-called gentlemens agreement among team owners that prohibited African American baseball players from playing in the major leagues for over 60 years, resulting in the creation and development of the Negro Leagues; the long fight against the hated reserve clause that kept players bound to one team for life; and the use of performance enhancing drugs by players in the years of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

I think the best episode, in my humble opinion, in the entire series is Inning 6: The National Pastime (1940-1950.) In this long and poignant episode, Burns tells in compelling detail of how the color barrier in Major League Baseball was finally broken.

In 1946, Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league deal, thus defying the express will of team owners. Rickey explained to Robinson, in a long and profanity-laced diatribe, what he was likely to face in the way of abuse, both verbal and possibly even physical, from other racist players, managers, and fans.

Robinson promised not to retaliate against all forms of racist abuse for three years. In April 1947, Robinson became the first African American to play major league baseball in over 60 years. He forever changed the game for the better, making it truly the national pastime.

Buck ONeil of the Kansas City Monarchs is a true delight to hear tell his first hand accounts of what it was like for a black team back in the 30s, 40s & 50s and how the great Jackie broke the color barrier with the help of Branch Ricky of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Daniel Okrent also had some good things to say, but disappointed me with his comments on Ty Cobb, calling him an embarrassment to baseball. There are a lot of misconceptions about Cobb and many people buy into the image of him as a violent, disagreeable, mean-spirited racist.

He definitely had his faults and they were likely enough to question his character, but he has also been portrayed in ways that were just not accurate.

Cobb was a complex individual with many flaws, but baseball history has many more characters that were more embarrassing to baseball than Cobb.

Anyway, moving swiftly on, and from the glory and tragedy of Lou Gehrig to the pursuit of the Iron Horses record by Cal Ripken, Jr. the gamut of baseball history is run, and brought closer to the present with Burns successor episodes of The Tenth Inning.

Which also show the resurgent dominance of the Yankees and the eventual return to championship form of other long-dormant franchises like the Tigers and Phillies.

I must confess that I have personally owned a home video copy of Baseball ever since it was first released on VHS tape in 1994. After I finally wore out my videotape set, I bought the remastered version of Baseball on DVD, a set that includes The Tenth Inning.

But now I have this incredible 11-Disc Blu-ray box-set, well I am happy as a clam, as I am sure you can well imagine! In closing, I think Baseball is the FINEST documentary ever produced about the game I love so much. Most highly recommended and now restored and remastered by PBS, there has never been a better time to purchase this incredible box-set, trust me on that!

Official PBS Purchase Link