Film review: Top of the Tenth

First of all, the story came out today that TinCaps manager Jose Flores did not have his contract renewed by the Padres. In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

The first half of Ken Burns’ “Tenth Inning” made its premiere last night. Overall, it’s outstanding. Love it. There are some additional angles I wish he would have gone into, as well (and maybe he will tonight in the completion of the series). Disclaimer: Being 26 years old, I don’t fully remember some of the things this documentary addresses. Which could be good or bad, I’m not sure which. Let’s discuss.

  • The steroid discussion is well balanced. Believe it or not, Chris Rock might have rationalized it best. To paraphrase, if I told you you’d get paid like Steven Spielberg just by taking a pill, you’d take the pill. That simplifies the argument for sure, but still valid.
  • “Innocence is beautiful sometimes.” – Pedro Martinez, in reference to the steroid controversy. In other words, it felt better when we weren’t suspicious of ballplayers. If I told you Chris Rock and Pedro Martinez made two of the most philosophical comments of a film, would you ever believe it was any good?
  • I don’t remember a ton about the strike because I wasn’t to the point where I understood it (I was in fourth grade and only cared about on-field stuff). But the anger from fans was pretty interesting (and totally deserved). The owners and players were arguing over revenue, which ultimately comes from the fans. It seems like both sides forgot that.
  • Cal Ripken gets a lot of credit for saving baseball after the strike. He gets the hero treatment, which is fine. He signed tons of autographs, smiled for pictures, did a lot of things to reconnect baseball with its fans. But from other things I’ve read, Ripken wasn’t as aw-shucks perfect as everybody wants to remember. Burns has a limited amount of time in which to tell a story, but if you’re going to make a documentary, it’s worth telling all sides.
  • The discussion of the Braves’ big three starting pitchers (Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz) is good, but everybody only remembers Maddux as this soft-tossing pinpoint control guy who “looks like a CPA.” He absolutely had some of the best command in the game. But when he first came up with the Cubs, he was a hard thrower (93 mph is pretty good to me) and he walked FAR more batters than he did later in his career. To me, Maddux is exactly the opposite of everything that was going on around him. He figured it out: to be good, you have to have talent; to be great you have to have something extra between the ears. Know yourself, know your mechanics, know the game, keep the hitters guessing. He had zip on his fastball, but he knew location, movement and a variation in velocity were keys to long-term success. In other words, slow and steady wins the race. As opposed to so many others who took the “easy way” of performance enhancers to get rich quick. And if Burns’ series is trying to show that baseball has mirrored American society, doesn’t this fit right in with how our economy was taking its own version of artificial performance enhancers at around the same time? And aren’t both the economy and MLB still trying to regain credibility with the public, even now? Just saying. I’m hoping he makes this connection tonight. He already made the connection with our country’s obsession with medications like Viagra and Prozac.
  • Ken Burns’ musical taste is as good as ever, even if his haircut taste isn’t. “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers, “You Wreck Me” by Tom Petty, and others. Boss.
  • Wade Boggs took his talent (and phenomenal mustache) straight from the Red Sox to the Yankees? After eight straight All-Star appearances? Where was I? He was a little past his prime (35 years old) when it happened, but this is sickening to me.
  • I forgot how important Francisco Cabrera’s game-winner was in the 1992 NLCS. The Pirates have been horrible ever since and it started the Braves’ domination of the NL East.
  • The discussion of the Latin American explosion in baseball is pretty good. One line I liked was, “No one walks off the island (Dominican Republic). You have to hit your way off.” Which is more right than Burns maybe intended it to be. I’ve heard from baseball people that some of the Latin-born players have a hard time learning patience. The reason? Because you don’t get noticed by scouts by taking a bunch of walks. At least not as quickly as you do by hitting a ball 900 feet.
  • The comment that players can be signed out of the Dominican Republic more cheaply than out of college is mostly right. But tell that to everyone selected in the last 25 rounds (which constitutes 50 percent) of any MLB draft and get ready to be laughed out of the room. The fact is, most players (regardless of home country) sign for a $1,000 bonus and are like lottery tickets to teams. If they pan out, great. If not, it wasn’t a huge investment. The difference is, if an American player doesn’t make it, he sells insurance. If a Latin player gets cut, it’s anybody’s guess where he ends up.
  • Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton had a couple of highlight calls included on the show. Loved them.
  • Bob Costas talked about the home run chase between McGwire and Sosa and he’s right on point. These statistics were completely unheard of. These guys were enormous. We knew somewhere in our minds that something strange was going on. But it was a story that took our minds off a lot of the other things that was going on in the world. McGwire and Sosa kept smiling and hugging their kids after breaking records. It was great theater. Who wouldn’t want to believe it was all legitimate? But at around the same time, a U.S. Olympic shot putter was banned for life for using the same stuff McGwire was using.
  • I think it’s interesting that Tony La Russa wanted the reporter who broke the McGwire-androstenedione story to be banned from the clubhouse for life. Many in the press tried to bury the story (after all, home runs=ratings and newspaper sales). Now, there are people who want to run McGwire out of baseball for life for using the stuff. Something to think about.
  • The profile of Barry Bonds so far has been outstanding. It’s not judging. It’s just explaining how Bonds came to become his ornery self (his dad feeling mistreated was most of it) and why (in someone’s mind) he decided to start taking performance enhancers (he got to 400 homers and 400 stolen bases in his career and got no attention because it happened at the same time as the home run chase).

Other thoughts:

  • Jay Bruce hit a division title-clinching homer last night for the Reds. I remember seeing him tear apart the Florida State League in 2007. He acted like a little kid (in a good way) at the All-Star Game that year. Good for him.
  • The Padres are fading fast in the big leagues, losing
    back-to-back games against the bummish Cubs. They haven’t been able to score,
    which they’ve been able to overcome most of the year with great
    pitching. Sigh. The Giants’ magic number to clinch the NL West is 4.
  • Baseball America‘s league-by-league top prospect lists are trickling out now. The Padres had six in the top 20 of the Short-A Northwest League. 3B Jedd Gyorko was third, RHP Matt Lollis was sixth, OF Rymer Liriano was eighth, RHP Adys Portillo was ninth, RHP Keyvius Sampson was 12th and OF Rico Noel was 19th. We saw that Gyorko and Lollis are really good. Liriano was a disaster toward the end of his time in Fort Wayne although he was trying to skip a level at the age of 18, so I’m not writing him off (Joey Votto repeated the Midwest League, after all). Portillo looked good in the few appearances we saw of him. I’ve heard good things about Sampson. Noel definitely has speed but was still adjusting to pro ball when we saw him for a brief time this year.
  • I may or may not have gone on a vacation over the weekend. Let’s just say looking at this in person while listening to this may be the most relaxing thing of all time.
  • Next weekend is the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival. If you’re not there, you’re wrong.

And now, musical guest… Jack Johnson!

Take care!


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