Substantively, the documentary was interesting, irritating, and comical, all at the same time. The brief mention of steroids in the first half was surprisingly sober and even-handed. The decision to book-end the show with the Odyssey of Barry Bonds was intriguing and, in some ways, poignant, the segment on the Braves was unintentionally hilarious for its lack of sophistication (did you know Greg Maddux was a nerdy looking guy who was great because he threw the ball where the batter couldn’t hit it?). Burns probably devoted too much time to Joe Torre and the 1996 Yankees team, and certainly spent too much time dwelling on the 1996 World Series, but I found it enjoyable enough, though I’m sure fans of other teams probably wouldn’t share that sentiment. But the two things that without question dominated the program were the strike and the 1998 home run race.
Concerning the strike, I really didn’t think Burns did a very good job of presenting it. I suppose that’s somewhat inevitable when you try to fit such a major, complex event into the context of a larger production that tries to fit 20 years worth of rapid change in baseball into 4 hours of television. But it was also done a disservice by the presence of Bud Selig making farcical statements about baseball’s “fiscal crisis” that went unchallenged. There was also no mention of the collusion scandal (which Selig has a major hand in), and while it mentioned that the owners replaced Fay Vincent with Selig as commissioner, left unsaid was what an inherent provocation of the players this act was.
That’s not to say the presentation was overwhelmingly pro-ownership. Most of the contributors seemed to be sympathetic to the players, and even George Will, George ‘freakin Will!, put the blame for the strike on the owners. More than anything the editorial tone of the show was that annoying “no one cared about the fans, it was just the millionaires vs. the billionaires and the poor, poor, fans got screwed out of…something.”
The handling of the home run race, on the other hand, was masterful It managed to capture the excitement and captivating nature of that summer, while not ignoring the cloud of PED’s, but also not allowing that cloud to cover everything and overshadow the sheer joy a lot of people felt watching McGwire and Sosa do the impossible. Pedro Martinez telling the story of how he used to immediately check to see if either had hit a home run that day after games was probably the emotional high point of the program, and quite honestly made me vividly remember checking the updated scoreboard in the newspaper everyday. It was a fun time to be a 12 year old baseball fan, and Burns captured those memories of mine perfectly.
I’m not sure if I’ll watch tonight, as it looks like it’s loaded with steroids talk, the 2001 World Series, and lots of stuff about the Red Sox, which frankly is stuff I’d rather not spend two hours remembering, but I’d definitely recommend the first half to anyone who likes that sort of thing. It’s not the best baseball related programming you’ll ever see by any means, but it’s enjoyable enough, especially if you were a kid from 1994-2000.