Ken Burns Goes Into Extra Innings

Sometimes adding a new chapter to a classic film series after a decade or more layoff produces results that don't quite live up to everyone's expectations (see Jones, Indiana; and Wars, Star).

But documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, ever the boyishly enthusiastic storyteller, is gamely heading back to the plate, adding to his nine-part 1994 PBS series, "Baseball." The new film, to be called "The 10th Inning," will cover the National Pastime from 1993 to 2008, and air on PBS next year.

"So much has transpired in baseball since we last examined the game and all of its many nuances," Burns said in a statement -- or rather, an understatement.

Cal Ripken earned away Lou Gehrig's Iron Man title in 1995. Mike Piazza's dramatic home run in the first game played after 9/11 gave the country something to cheer about, if only for a fleeting moment. The Red Sox finally reversed the Curse of the Bambino in 2004.

But real story of baseball over the last 15 years is steroids: records smashed by impossibly big sluggers who looked like little men testifying before Congress; and the ongoing saga of an all-time home run king who is a walking, under indictment, asterisk.

Burns will do well to stick to his simple, possibly overblown -- and very probably true -- thesis that the story of baseball is the story of America. The last 15 years have given us tales of perseverance, resilience -- and illusion-shattering cheating.

Baseball, like life, is unpredictable, with narratives that can't always be neatly tied up with a bow  -- as the late George Carlin noted in his classic routine about the differences between baseball and football: "Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings!"

So Burns' challenge is different than those of filmmakers who revive movie fantasy characters or aged action heroes. It's more akin to the "Seven Up" documentary series where British youngsters, first interviewed at age 7, are revisited every seven years (they're up to 49). The return of "Baseball" is a welcome visit from an old friend with new stories to tell.

Meanwhile, Burns' and Lynn Novick's original Emmy-winning series -- with new commentary by Burns -- is being rerun on the new MLB Network. Not a bad way to wile away the winter, waiting for another Opening Day.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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