Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Ninth Inning

9th inning

After a long hiatus, due to having to return the series to the library and wait for others to finish their turns with it before having my chance at checking it out again, I have finally made it back around to watching the Ninth Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns.  This installment in the series covers the time period from 1970 to 1993, the ending representing present day at the time, as the series was originally released in 1994.

The Ninth Inning opens with a baseball game being played between a pair of Dominican teams.  A couple players from one of the teams give interviews expressing the importance of baseball to the Dominican culture.  “It’s like a religion,” one player says.  “There’s never been a revolution or war during baseball season.”  Historian Manuel Marquez-Sterling compares baseball to the opera, insisting the two are essentially the same kind of thing.

On this disc we learn about Brooks Robinson leading the Orioles to the 1970 World Series championship against Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds.  In 1971, the Orioles found themselves on the losing side of the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Roberto Clemente of the Pirates made a name for himself during this period.  He was an icon for both the black community and for the Puerto Rican community, and he gave back to society as much as he could.  On New Years Eve of 1971, however, Clemente’s plane crashed in an effort to bring relief supplies to Nicaragua following an earthquake.

Baseball’s reserve clause met its end during this time period.  Curt Flood’s battle in the courts against the clause at the start of the decade came away largely fruitless, though it did serve to bring the issue into the public spotlight.  In 1975, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, with the help of Marvin Miller, took on the reserve clause by claiming free agency.  In the end, the reserve clause was abolished and players were now eligible for free agency after six years.  This, as we see through today, resulted in an explosion of baseball salaries.  The collusion of baseball owners in the late-1980s threatened this newfound free agent market, in much the same way owners once had observed the “gentleman’s agreement” to never sign a black player.  This collusion, however, would soon get exposed and would cost the owners a considerable sum.

The treatment of both Roberto Clemente and Curt Flood highlighted the points made by Jackie Robinson shortly before his death.  Certainly, as Buck O’Neil mentions, a lot changed in baseball, and in American society, as a result of Robinson’s role in breaking the color barrier.  Nevertheless, baseball still had a long way to go in terms of racial equality.  Henry Aaron knew all about this reality, playing for the Braves and chasing Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record.  The hate mail sent to Aaron, some of which gets read in this episode, sends chills down my spine.  In 1974, Hank Aaron did break Ruth’s record, and deservedly so.  The 1987 interview of Al Campanis regarding the reasons behind a lack of blacks in baseball management drove home the existence of the persisting prejudice.

The Oakland A’s of the 1970s drew attention, not only due to their excellent performance, but also due to the appearance of their players.  Players were given bonuses to grow their hair out, and many went on to sport some quite interesting facial hair.  Catfish Hunter’s pitching for Oakland was stellar, almost unfair in the eyes of some hitters, who noticed the strike zone seemed to grow larger whenever Hunter took the mound.

The Cincinnati Reds returned to the World Series in 1975, this time against the Boston Red Sox.  Not only did the Reds have Pete Rose on their roster, but also boasted of names like Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, and Joe Morgan.  Game 6 of this Series proved one for the history books, featuring Carlton Fisk’s dramatic walk-off home run for Boston in the twelfth inning to tie the Series at three.  Cincinnati would win the Series, however, in Game 7.  As a side note, I particularly enjoyed the various stories told by pitcher Bill Lee on this disc.  The man was certainly a character.  He speaks candidly and hilariously about his own experiences, blunders, and shortcomings, and his wild gesturing made it just as fun to watch him speak as it was to listen.

The 1970s saw the rise of George Steinbrenner as owner of the New York Yankees.  Free agency worked in Steinbrenner’s favor, and he spent freely to build a winning organization.  Though they lost the 1976 World Series, they won it in 1977 and 1978, led by Reggie Jackson.  Steinbrenner became notorious for running through managers like a child runs through fads, bolstering his reputation for trying to buy his way to championships.

The 1979 Series featured Willie Stargell and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then in 1980, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals, led by Pete Rose, who had signed with them after becoming a free agent.  Rose would return to the Reds later in his career.  Nolan Ryan also took advantage of free agency, dominating from the pitcher’s mound with multiple teams.  After the collusion among the owners was busted up, baseball contracts exploded, and player after player made headlines as the newest highest paid player.

After this point, the documentary ceased to cover every single World Series championship, but rather focused on the ones that would be deemed “most popular” in baseball history.  The 1986 World Series saw a continuation of the Curse of the Bambino.  The Boston Red Sox lost the Series in a stunning fashion to the New York Mets.  After giving up what seemed like a sure victory in Game 6, the Red Sox also lost Game 7.  The 1988 World Series went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a championship victory that included the unbelievable tale of Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 in spite of his injuries.

In August 1989, Pete Rose was banished from baseball.  Bart Giamatti gave the announcement in a press conference, stating that Rose’s involvement in gambling had hurt the game, and that the game must be held to the highest standards.  In spite of a depressing end to the 1980s, and in spite of all the scandals and other struggles in baseball, John Thorn and Buck O’Neil exalt the continuing survivalist spirit of baseball.  Admittedly, the timing of these statement is a bit ironic, considering that the next World Series after this documentary was released, the 1994 Series, did not get played due to the players’ strike.  In spite of that, baseball did come back, and I’d say the fact that so many baseball blogs, such as this one, exist is a testament to the continuing love and wonder that baseball brings.

This day in baseball: A trade of two Babes

The Phillies traded first baseman Babe Dahlgren to the Pirates on December 30, 1943 in exchange for catcher Babe Phelps and cash. Ellsworth Tenney “Babe” Dahlgren would be best remembered in baseball history as the man who replaced Lou Gehrig in the lineup on May 2, 1939, at the end of Gehrig’s fourteen-year, 2,130 consecutive game streak.





This day in baseball: Rose to Phillies

Having been also pursued by the Mets, Braves, Pirates, and Royals, Pete Rose signed with the Phillies on December 5, 1978 for four years and $3.2 million.  Rose’s new deal comes after having spent sixteen years with the Cincinnati Reds

rose book




This day in baseball: Clemente joins the Pirates

On November 22, 1954, the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased the contract of Roberto Clemente from the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ AAA farm club.  The right fielder would play eighteen seasons for the Pirates and became the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame after his death in 1972.


Roberto Clemente (

“7th Game : 1960 Series,” by Paul Blackburn


paul blackburn

Paul Blackburn (Wikipedia)

This piece by Paul Blackburn provides an abridged look at Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Living in New York, he describes the experience of Yankees fans, and there is something almost mystical about the City That Never Sleeps quieting down for a baseball game.  I imagine that silence must have continued for a few days after that blast by Bill Mazeroski, the only winner-take-all walk-off home run in World Series history.



Nice day,
sweet October afternoon
Men walk the sun-shot avenues,
                          Second, Third, eyes
                          intent elsewhere
ears communing with transistors in shirt pockets
                 Bars are full, quiet,
discussion during commercials
Pirates lead New York 4-1, top of the 6th, 2
Yankees on base,   1 man out
What a nice day for all this  !
Handsome women, even
dreamy jailbait, walk
                     nearly neglected :
men’s eyes are blank
their thoughts are all in Pittsburgh
Last half of the 9th, the score tied 9-all,
Mazeroski leads off for the Pirates
The 2nd pitch he simply, sweetly
belts it clean over the left-field wall
Blocks of afternoon
acres of afternoon
Pennsylvania Turnpikes of afternoon . One
                  diamond stretches out in the sun
                          the 3rd base line
                  and what men come down
                  The final score, 10-9
Yanquis, come home

This day in baseball: Wright’s unassisted triple play

On May 7, 1925, Pirates shortstop Glenn Wright recorded an unassisted triple play against the Cardinals when he caught a line drive off the bat of Jim Bottomley, then proceeded to step on second to catch Jim Cooney not tagging up and then tagged Rogers Hornsby coming down the baseline from first base.  Wright also went 1-for-4 with two RBIs in the game, but his efforts would prove to not be enough, as the Pirates lost, 10-9.



Glenn Wright (Library of Congress)


This day in baseball: Mets’ first victory

The New York Mets won their first franchise game on April 23, 1962, their tenth game of the season.  Jay Hook pitched a five-hit complete game as the Mets defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-1, at Forbes Field.  What’s more, they also broke the Pirates’ ten-game win streak with the victory.



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