Monday, April 17, 2017

Ken Burns: Baseball (1994)

America’s National Pastime


Via: Youtube


“The story of baseball is also the story of race in America, of immigration and assimilation; of the struggle between labor and management, of popular culture and advertising, of myth and the nature of heroes, villains, and buffoons; of the role of women and class and wealth in our society. The game is a repository of age-old American verities, of standards against which we continually measure ourselves, and yet at the same time a mirror of the present moment in our modern culture — including all of our most contemporary failings.”

Ken Burns [born July 29, 1953; Brooklyn, N.Y.],
“Introduction” to Baseball, 1994


This is the first part (Inning 1) of Ken Burns’ masterful and popular 1994 series on baseball, simply called Baseball, which naturally has nine parts or nine innings, the length of a complete baseball game (one that doesn’t go into extra innings). The documentary is narrated by John Chancellor [1927–1996], the anchor of NBC Nightly News from 1970 to 1982.

This sport has also been called “America’s National Pastime.” Like all professional endeavors, and most noticeable in sports, this is considered serious business, influenced not only by the money that can be made, but also by the prestige of winning and of being the team that wins it all in the World Series. There is a euphoria, a feeling of elation, in winning, in being declared without any doubt the best among the best players. Such is competition at a high level.

One can say that baseball is the most intellectual of sports, since there is a lot of strategy involved, a lot of ways to advance base runners from home plate and back to home plate—a total distance of 360 feet. This is achieved with very little physical contact, unlike teams sports like hockey, football and soccer. The greatest and most important contact is between a round wooden bat and round cork-centered ball weighing approximately 5 oz.

Moreover, unlike any other sport played in the United States, the history of baseball and the history of America are intertwined. If you want to understand America, you need to understand baseball. This explains why in the past, for example, Jewish children of immigrants played and watched baseball, and when a game was not on TV they listening to their team on the radio. This adage applied to me since 1969 with the Montreal Expos being granted a franchise (the first outside the U.S.), and baseball fever hit the city.

Like countless others on my street I played games of pickup baseball. (I am now teaching the game to my younger son.) I also watched baseball at Jarry Park, and when I couldn’t I was one of the many who listened to the game on a transistor radio (a red Zenith), sometimes joined by my older brother, while reclining on a chair in our backyard balcony during a hot summer day sipping on a iced tea or an iced cold lemonade.

I have many fond memories of Hall of Fame broadcaster (2011) Dave Van Horne, the Expos play-by-play man for 32 years (and now with the Miami Marlins), and the use of his signature phrase, “up, up and away,” when a player hit a homerun. His enthusiasm was part of his charm, as was his ability to capture what was happening on the field while high in the box above. That was magic.

For those who don’t appreciate the finer points of the game, it appears slow and boring, but for those who do, it is anything but. Here is one particular interesting aspect of the game. Baseball is unique among team sports in that it is not ruled by a set time, but by completion of the required 9 innings, or more until there is a decided winner. The longest game in MLB history, between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox on May 8, 1984, was for 25 innings, lasting more than eight hours. The White Sox outlasted its competition, winning 7–6.

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