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In 'Tenth Inning,' Baseball's Shakespearean Plot

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In 'Tenth Inning,' Baseball's Shakespearean Plot

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In 'Tenth Inning,' Baseball's Shakespearean Plot

In 'Tenth Inning,' Baseball's Shakespearean Plot

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In The Tenth Inning, Ken Burns says he wanted to show a complicated and nuanced portrait of Barry Bonds (pictured here playing for the San Francisco Giants in a 2001 game). Courtesy of Sports Illustrated/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

In The Tenth Inning, Ken Burns says he wanted to show a complicated and nuanced portrait of Barry Bonds (pictured here playing for the San Francisco Giants in a 2001 game).

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

The Tenth Inning, Ken Burns' sequel to his PBS documentary series Baseball, reveals a plot of Shakespearean dimensions. In part, it's the story of Barry Bonds.

The film airing on PBS in late September picks up in the 1990s where Baseball left off.

In the mid-1990s, Bonds, one of the most gifted players of his time along with Ken Griffey Jr., is depicted as struggling with the fact that sluggers with juiced bodies got more attention than he did. So Bonds allegedly used steroids.

Filmmaker Ken Burns says after a bout in the '90s where anyone could hit 50 home runs in a season, it's back to being a rarity again. Courtesy of Jake Landis/PBS hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Jake Landis/PBS

Filmmaker Ken Burns says after a bout in the '90s where anyone could hit 50 home runs in a season, it's back to being a rarity again.

Courtesy of Jake Landis/PBS

"It's always the people closest to us — the ones we love and spend our lives with — that remain to some extent inscrutable in the end, which suggests biography is always failure," filmmaker Burns tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "But I think what we wanted to do was go beyond the binary response of good or bad with regard to Barry Bonds — indeed, the whole steroids era and all of those caught up in it, a horrific mix — and try to show a complicated and nuanced portrait of him. To come to terms with why that Faustian bargain was made at the end of the 1998 season."

After the 1994 strike-shortened season, baseball was finally revived by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa vying for Roger Maris' season home run record. But Bonds' accomplishments went virtually unnoticed.

"He hits his 400 home run and steals his 400th base, something no one's ever done that summer, while we were all cheering McGwire and Sosa despite the discovery of "Andro" [Androstenedione] in McGwire's locker, a form of steroids," Burns says. "It's at that point that he realizes if home runs is what they want — his contribution was relegated to the back of the sports pages — he was going to balance the score. And boy, does he. This is without a doubt, the greatest player of the last several decades. And he may arguably be the greatest player who has ever played our national pastime. And yet, because of these choices, he'll drag around with him for his entire life and for the statistical life of his baseball records the ball and chain of this steroids scandal."

The film acknowledges that the steroids era — while unique in its specifics — was part of a history of cheating that is one of baseball's less noble attributes.

"We steal bases in this game," Burns says. "Stealing is legal in this game, but we have always sought to find an edge. And we've admired the folks who found that edge. And we've usually seen them as likable rogues. And what happens in steroids is that all of the sudden — the 50 home run season, which was a rarity — George Foster in '77 and then Cecil Fielder in '90 — and then all of a sudden, everybody — you and I could hit home runs.

"It's back to being a rarity again. The genie — if it's not back in the bottle, then it's close to being back in the bottle. We feel some balance to the records. But the only thing it really did is it seemed to extend pitchers' careers and add to the home run totals — both single-season and lifetime."

Another character highlighted in The Tenth Inning is Pedro Martinez, considered the greatest pitcher of the era. Burns calls Martinez "magnificent."

"Not only is this the man famous for saying, 'There's no crying baseball,' he talks about crying and missing his mom as he begins to move up and out from the Dominican Republic into the world of baseball — and being carried away on all-day car trips away from his mom," Burns says.

Pedro Martinez, pictured here in a 1999 game, was a "magnificent" interview, according to Burns. "Not only is this the man famous for saying, 'There's no crying baseball,' he talks about crying and missing his mom as he begins to move up and out from the Dominican Republic into the world of baseball," he says. Courtesy of V.J. Lovero/Sports Illustrated hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of V.J. Lovero/Sports Illustrated

Burns says that baseball is a sport where whenever a player hits a grand slam, they cross the plate and point up to heaven thanking God. But nobody ever thanks God for the troubles that baseball is also very much about, he says.

"Remember, you fail 7 times out of 10 and you're an excellent .300 hitter. But as Pedro Martinez is removed — finally, finally — by Grady Little in the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees in which Pedro has not been take off sooner — and has therefore given the runs that allowed the Yankees to tie the game and eventually win in the 12th inning by Aaron bleeping Boon as we say in New England — there's this momentary thing as he's walking in and crossing the chalk that he points up. I love Pedro for that. Those years when Pedro was so dominant reminded me of when I was young, of the years that Sandy Koufax was dominant and the slight frame and the determination and that amazing concentration in the sense that every time he came out you were going to see a great game."

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