NEW YORK » Who says Red Sox and Yankee fans can’t work together? Witness Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who just finished a sequel to their 1994 series "Baseball" — they even seem to like each other.
Burns said he thought about revisiting the series when his beloved Red Sox broke a curse and won the World Series in 2004, but the steroids story that ensnared some of the game’s best players turned out to be what prompted the filmmakers — who once vowed they wouldn’t do sequels (too Hollywood) — to revisit the sport
Their film "The Tenth Inning" airs over four hours on Sept. 28 and 29 on PBS. "Baseball," shown during the Major League Baseball players strike in 1994, became the most-watched program in PBS history.
Baseball’s comeback from the strike and the scandal involving players who altered their bodies through drugs provide the narrative structure for the film. It’s tied together in a question asked by one interview subject, sportswriter Howard Bryant: "Is it possible to have a renaissance and a calamity at the same time?"
"The Tenth Inning" closely follows Barry Bonds as he grows up the son of a troubled major-league star, breaks in with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and sees his muscles and home run totals balloon as a San Francisco Giant. He set a record with 762 home runs yet his career ended with a whimper, clouded by steroids allegations he repeatedly denied.
His story is not framed as a simple tale of good vs. evil. It can’t be simple for those who knew that injections of questionably legal drugs could greatly enhance their performance at work and potentially earn them millions of dollars.
"It’s just like if I were in a war," Burns said. "Would I run away and hide or would I hold my gun and keep my position? Those are the kinds of questions I asked myself when making this project. What would I do if I were in the same position?"
The goal was to portray the athletes as human beings, not as demigods worshipped by fans.
Bonds would not be interviewed for the film, nor would other prominent players accused of steroid use, such as Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens.
Besides Pedro Martinez and Joe Torre, relatively few contemporary baseball people participate. The filmmakers instead lean on more lyrical outsiders, such as Mike Barnicle commenting about how much a World Series championship meant to people in New England.
Burns and Novick had hoped to interview more players, but were advised they wouldn’t get much out of them.
"They have a certain way of talking, it’s almost as if it’s a flatline kind of thing," Novick said. "They say just what they’re going to say. They already know what you’re going to ask and they have their preprogrammed answer. It’s careful and very guarded."
"The Tenth Inning" looks at the rise of Latino players, including a visit to the Dominican Republic to see young players trained in baseball academies with the hope their talents would lift them out of poverty.