For now, millions of Major League Baseball fans are enjoying "The Tenth Inning." The four-hour sequel to his landmark 1994 documentary "Baseball" just had its much-anticipated premiere this week on PBS. It is now available for you to download at iTunes, a good opportunity for those who are waiting to see it all for themselves at their convenience -- or perhaps to review their favorite parts.
"The Tenth Inning" is actually available in two files for download, each at $6.99. The first is "Top of the Tenth" (1:56:52), and the second is "Bottom of the Tenth" (2:04:24). These represent the 11th and 12th download files on that iTunes page, all part of the total "Baseball" presentation.
For $49.99, the entire opus can be yours, the equivalent of downloading an album vs. downloading a single track. If you download the entire "Baseball" series, you also get the new 17-minute segment "Preview: Back to the Ballpark."
The original "Baseball" epic remains the most-watched series in the history of public television and has been a top-selling video and DVD set. The series has been rebroadcast on both PBS and MLB Network so a new generation of fans can learn about the game's evolution over the many decades. Burns went from ballpark to ballpark on a promotional tour in advance, and last week at Fenway Park, he had the distinction of not only throwing the ceremonial first pitch but also catching a foul ball.
Although Burns himself is a devout Red Sox fan, his work crosses all team loyalties. It's a baseball thing. If you haven't watched it yet, you no doubt will. There is also something about the iTunes download capability that shows how life changes while baseball at its core does not, and that is what "Baseball" is really all about -- how the national pastime mirrors society.
Think back to 1994, when "Baseball" first aired. Download? Internet? It was a year or two after that the people really began flowing onto something called the World Wide Web. You could then purchase the VHS tape and watch it on your VCR, then do the same with a DVD. Who could have imagined in 1994 that there would be an @KenBurnsPBS Twitter account with regular updates allowing you to communicate with the director, or that there would be the 24-hour MLB Network, on which Bob Costas would sit down to chat with Burns about the 16 dramatic years since the 1994 strike. It makes you wonder how we would consume "The Eleventh Inning."
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The acclaimed director and his longtime colleague, Lynn Novick, had been asked for almost 15 years if they had ever considered updating the series.
"We had never planned on doing a sequel," said Burns. "But after my Red Sox had won the World Series, we started to think about it, and when the steroid [issue] hit, we realized, besides Jackie Robinson coming up in the 1940s, there hadn't been two more consequential decades in the history of the game -- the strike and steroids on the negative side, but also unbelievable performances: the Atlanta Braves and their trio of pitchers, Joe Torre being able to bring some sense to the Bronx Zoo, the rise of Latin players, the home run chase of '98, Barry Bonds, 9/11, Ichiro and Asian players, the Red Sox losing in 2003 on Aaron Boone's homer and then coming back the next year, as if they were gluttons for punishment, and having the greatest comeback and the continuation of the series drama."
So Burns and Novick brought the series to the present with "The Tenth Inning." It was directed by Burns and Novick, and written and produced by David McMahon, Novick and Burns.
"We suddenly realized we couldn't even do it in two hours, the normal length of an episode. We needed more time," said Burns, a seven-time Emmy winner and two-time Academy Award nominee who has also received acclaim for the documentaries "The Civil War," "Mark Twain" and "Jazz."
"We went to work, and we were making adjustments through this spring to the story, and after watching Armando Galarraga and Stephen Strasburg and all the pitching of this year, you want to go back and do an 'Eleventh Inning.' "
"The Tenth Inning" celebrates baseball's successes over the past decade and a half, but it also unflinchingly looks at the problems the game has encountered, going into great detail about the players' strike of 1994, which led to the cancellation of the 1994 postseason, and the so-called "steroid era," examining how performance-enhancing drugs entered the game and the impact they had on players, management and fans.
"I think we tend to compartmentalize or ignore some of the issues of baseball, the strike or steroids era over the last 20 years, or we try to dismiss [them] and say, 'They're all bad -- a pox on their houses,' " said Burns, explaining why he and Novick believed they had to address these issues. "It takes a much more subtle approach -- that we have to tolerate the contradictions -- and that's what I think we've done.
"We tried to understand the game in a much deeper way, that it's much more appreciative when we stop making them our heroes but understand them as real human beings, not unlike us. Then I think we can come to terms with everything and I think we can say, as Joe Torre says in our film, that 'The sun is shining on the other side' and 'The steroid era is in our rearview mirror.'
"Now they have the best [drug-testing policy], and they have their handle on it, and we are now seeing a great crop of new hitters and pitchers. The game was never better, turnstiles are clicking, revenue is up. This is, in some ways, a golden age, despite all the problems that have beset baseball in the past two decades."
A number of familiar faces -- writers Roger Angell, John Thorn, George Will, Gerald Early and Doris Kearns Goodwin, plus Costas -- from the first nine installments of the series provide their perspectives on the events of the past 15 years. The film also features revealing interviews with Commissioner Bud Selig; former players and managers Felipe Alou and Torre; players Pedro Martinez, Omar Vizquel and Ichiro Suzuki; broadcaster Keith Olbermann; and writers Marcos Breton, Tom Verducci, Selena Roberts, Mike Barnicle and Howard Bryant.
"The quality of what Ken Burns does, whether he is talking about the Civil War or baseball -- he takes such time and feeling in doing it," said Torre, who gave what Burns called "one of the greatest interviews we've ever had."
"It's something that is going to be a part of our history, and I'm just very proud to be a part of this one."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Follow @MLB on Twitter. MLB.com correspondent Ben Platt contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.