Burns Back at Bat

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

And now that we're done alliterating:


In "The Tenth Inning," Mr. Burns offers more than just a contrast between light and dark, between the simple joys of baseball and the greed of the players and owners, between the decency of players like Cal Ripken Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr. and the surliness of Mr. Bonds, and between the elegance of the singles hitter Ichiro Suzuki and the brute force of home run bashers like Mark McGwire who captivated fans only to sour them with the artificial sources of their inflated physiques. 

In the film, Howard Bryant, an ESPN writer, calls the years since the mid-'90s a period of simultaneous "renaissance and calamity," in which record attendance is set against the steroid scandal's shame. Another commentator, Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post, says fans have learned to filter out baseball's self-inflicted indignities to focus on a game that still can entrance. 

Mr. Burns insists that "The Tenth Inning" is an optimistic look at the strength that baseball retains, despite itself. He offers evidence including the rise of Latino players, the success of the former Yankees manager Joe Torre, the 86-year wait for a World Series championship by fans of the Boston Red Sox ("My team," Mr. Burns said) and the frequent appearances of the writer and MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle's emotional (if schmaltzy) father-and-sons-and-Red Sox memories.

I haven't watched the first baseball miniseries. It's interesting, I'm watching The Civil War for the seven-hundreth time, and as much as I've long loved it, there is something that bothers me about it, and something that bothers me about most of Burns work. It's almost as if his iteration of history is too pretty. I don't mean that in the sense of leaving out ugly episodes, I mean that in sensibility. The perfect quote is always at hand, the specific detail at the ready.

Anyway, it's a small thing. I love The Civil War. And I need to watch Baseball.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/09/burns-back-at-bat/63576/