Person of Interest: Ken Burns Goes into Extra Innings

ken burns


Ken Burns has always refused to return to the subjects of his famed documentaries. He adamantly rejected offers to churn out spinoffs of The Civil War, even though they would have earned him nice paychecks, and made sure to say everything he wanted about The National Parks the first time. He always thought of Baseball, his 1994 series, the same way. “One hundred and fifty years of baseball history, eighteen and a half hours, nine episodes,” Burns says. “My God, we thought we were done.” But then came a whole series of surprises, including a strike that shut the sport down, and the Red Sox’s magical 2004 season (Burns is a die-hard Sox fan, but it was really the come-from-behind ALCS victory that caught the historian’s eye). “By the time the steroids scandal became front-page news,” he says, “I realized we had a whole other chapter to tell.”

Two chapters, as it turns out: The first part of The Tenth Inning airs on 9/28 on Channel 2, followed by the second part the next night. To drum up publicity for the four-hour addendum — which will cover the strike, the Sox, and Barry Bonds’s fall, among other subjects — Burns spent his summer crisscrossing the country, throwing out the first pitch at any ballpark that would have him. On 9/21 he’ll do the honors at Fenway. It will be Burns’s third time on the Boston mound, after the one for the premiere of Baseball and an embarrassing Father’s Day outing (when he bounced the ball, in front of his daughters no less) that he’d just as soon forget. This year, though, Burns has been throwing strikes, and that begs an important question: Will he be ready to step in and lend the ailing Sox an arm? “The fact that they’ve stayed even within hunting distance is a testament to that team and to Terry Francona,” Burns says. “But if they want somebody who can throw a blazing fastball at 45 miles per hour, they can have me.”