The countdown to the midpoint of Major League Baseball’s 2021 season is underway. The biggest names in the league will come together next week to put their talents on display in the 2021 MLB All-Star Game. The game will also determine home field advantage for the World Series. With the season’s midway point almost reached and all eyes looking forward to the second half of the season, the upcoming break makes for a great time to also look back on the Great American Pastime’s history. Audiences can once again do just that thanks to PBS Distribution’s recent re-issue of the Ken Burns documentary, Baseball. Re-issued June 8 on separate DVD and Blu-ray box sets, the documentary is a wonderful presentation for any baseball fan. That is due in no small part to its content, which will be discussed shortly. The set’s packaging is especially important to address in this re-issue and will be discussed a little later. The bonus content that accompanies the set is also of note and will be examined later, too. Each item noted is important in its own way. All things considered, these items make the set one more of this year’s top new DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.
PBS Distribution’s recent re-issue of the Ken Burns documentary Baseball is a presentation that any baseball fan will appreciate. Its appeal is due in no small part to its featured content. The content in question is exactly the same as that presented in the set’s original release in 2000 and its 2004 and 2010 re-issues (Yes, this is now the documentary’s third re-issue). The content in question follows the evolution of “America’s Game” from the pre-Civil War years (the 1840s) all the way up to 2009. Throughout the 23 hours which the program spans, viewers learn about how baseball has brought the nation together in some of its best and worst times. It also ensures the history of the Negro League is thoroughly highlighted as part of the whole. The story of Jackie Robinson’s impact on the league and its history is also part of the overall story, as is the impact of performance enhancing drugs in the late 90s and early 2000s. Simply put, audiences who perhaps did not or do not own this documentary in its previous two releases get the original program – remastered – in this set. None of the story is omitted, nor is anything added that was not in those releases. To that end, audiences will be pleased to know that in terms of content, this latest presentation of Baseball is positive. The primary content featured in PBS Distribution’s latest re-issue of Baseball is just one of its positives. Its packaging adds to its appeal.
Baseball’s packaging is important to note because it is so ergonomic in comparison to that of the documentary’s prior releases. Both the DVD and Blu-ray presentation spread the documentary’s 11 discs across three separate cases inside a bigger housing box. This sounds somewhat bulky, but it really is anything but. By comparison, the documentary’s 2004 DVD release was far less ergonomic. It placed each “inning” of the story (yes, the story is divided into “innings” instead of “chapters.” Got to love that marketing aspect.) on its own disc within a bigger box. That means that said set was extremely large. These new sets on the other hand, are far less space consuming. Each box in this re-issue separates the set’s discs into a count of three, two, and six respectively. The discs are separated on their own spindle and leaf separate from the other discs. This protects the discs from one another, dramatically decreasing the chances of the discs being marred. What’s more, it also ensures the set will take up far less space on audiences’ DVD/BD racks than that 2004 (and even 2010) re-issue. Speaking of the 2010 re-issue, it separated the “10th Inning” section as a standalone Blu-ray, while the rest of the documentary was still packaged as an overly bulky DVD set. So again, what audiences are getting here in terms of packaging is a positive presentation in its own right, both on DVD and Blu-ray. The packaging is exactly the same on both sets and far more ergonomic than that of the documentary’s previous releases. It is just one more positive of this overall set. The bonus content that accompanies the set rounds out its most important elements.
The bonus content that accompanies the documentary in its latest presentation is the same as that presented in the set’s 2010 re-issue. Save for the update about the Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series title, all of the bonus content featured in that set is also the same as that in the set’s 2000 release. So in other words, audiences get here, all of the same bonus content collected over the course of the documentary’s previous releases. This means that no viewers will feel cheated. The bulk of the bonus content is extra interview footage that did not make the final cut for the documentary’s main feature. Among the most notable of the bonus interview footage is that which focuses on race relations in baseball’s history, asterisks related to PEDs, and the role of baseball post 9/11. In regards to the matter of race relations, writer Gerald Early states that through much of baseball’s history, there was little attempt by the league’s heads to attract African-American audiences. Fellow writer Howard Bryant expanded on Early’s comments, stating that instead of looking inward at America’s own African-American community, the league instead looked more toward Latin America and the college ranks. He added (again, at the time) that this had been the trend over the course of the past 30 years. On a related note, sportswriter Doug Glanville states counters that as he said “multiculturalism is the next level” for the league. He was making the comment about the growing globalization of the game in regards to its reach and diversity in the league’s players.
In regards to the extra discussions on baseball’s role post 9/11, former Yankees manager Joe Torre joins Early, and sportswriters Tom Verducci and Selena Roberts to discuss how important it was at the time for the game to return. Each points out in his/her own way that having the game return was fully necessary because it returned a sense of normalcy to the nation and helped to unite Americans, even if they were not Yankees fans. As fellow sportswriter Tom Boswell best put it, “It gave us all something to rally around.”
The bonus commentary excerpts are only a portion of the more than two hours of bonus content featured in this re-issue. Burns and producer Lynn Novick are also featured from their 2010 interview as they talk about how the documentary came about. According to Burns, Baseball is for all intents and purposes, a “sequel” to The Civil War, another documentary for which he is known. Novick ads her own comments, stressing that when Baseball originally aired in 1992, there was some trepidation because it aired right as the now infamous players strike happened. The contrast of the strike and the virtual love letter to the game that was Baseball was stark. That in itself is sure to make for some discussion among audiences. Additionally, Novick raises discussion about concerns raised by the league’s heads when she and Burns came to them about making the documentary. According to Novick, the league officials were concerned about Burns and Novick making the project “a hatchet job” and their changed opinions after seeing the finished product. The concerns, according to Novick stemmed from the impact of the player’s strike on public opinion and the impact of the PED scandal on public opinion. To that end, their concerns were justified. It can be appreciated why the league would have been tentative about having this documentary released. Keeping this in mind along with everything else shared in the interviews with Burns and Novick, and in the bonus interview segments, the whole of the bonus content makes for its own appeal. When the appeal of the bonus content is considered along with that created through the documentary’s primary content and packaging, the whole makes this re-issue a positive overall presentation for baseball fans and those of PBS and Ken Burns.
PBS Distribution’s latest re-issue of the Ken Burns documentary Baseball is a positive presentation. It will appeal equally to baseball fans and those of Burns and PBS. That is proven in part through its primary content. The primary content in question is the same as that presented in the documentary’s previous releases. That means that whether audiences own the documentary’s previous releases, everyone will be on the same level in terms of that content. The content in question takes audiences through baseball’s history, from its infancy in the pre-Civil War era up to 2009. That is a wide swath of the game’s history. The set’s packaging is also a positive for this presentation. That is because in the case of the DVD and Blu-ray platform, the packaging is far more ergonomic than that of the documentary’s previous DVD releases. The bonus content, like the primary content, is the same as that in the documentary’s prior releases. As with that primary content, this also ensures that audiences are all on the same level. The more than two hours of content adds its own share of engagement and entertainment for audiences. When it is considered along with the documentary’s primary content and packaging, the whole makes this presentation one more of this year’s top new DVD and BD re-issues. Baseball is available now.
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