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Non-instant replay is not quite a home run

Filmmaker Ken Burns discusses his baseball documentary,

Filmmaker Ken Burns discusses his baseball documentary, "The Tenth Inning," during an interview in Boston. Photo Credit: AP (2010)

THE SHOW "The Tenth Inning"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night and Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on WNET/13; 10 p.m. on WLIW/21

REASON TO WATCH Ken Burns wraps up the story of "Baseball," with an assist from longtime collaborator Lynn Novick.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Ken Burns, TV laureate of America's great indigenous music ("Jazz") and pastime ("Baseball"), wraps his 1994 documentary with this new four-hour bookend. Tuesday night covers the 1990s; tomorrow, the '00s. Tonight's theme, per the doc, is that "the game would have to go through its own dark ages before it emerged stronger than ever." Which - of course - is a segue to Barry Bonds. Also covered: The strike, steroids, and the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run derby. The Yankees and their fans will get their due Tuesday night; the Red Sox Wednesday.

MY SAY Unless you are one of those people who claim not to know the difference between a "strike" and a "foul ball," you have an opinion about baseball. This opinion may be concise and deeply embedded in the pain receptors of your brain - "why, why, why did the Mets do this to me again?" - or it may be vague, ill-defined ("The Tampa Bay Rays aren't nearly as fun to hate as the Red Sox; I wonder why?") But the fact is, you've got an opinion, and it's been enriched by years - decades - of absorbing information. If you live in the tri-state area, you can't avoid this. We know baseball, particularly of the past two decades, almost by osmosis.

What's new here? Pretty much nothing. "The Tenth Inning" is dutiful, sober and thoughtful. No spitballs are thrown. No banned substances have been added to bloat it up to obscene, grotesque proportions. What is missing in at least tonight's installment is surprise, or the pleasant shock of learning something brand new or unexpected. Burns and Novick also give voice to some writers - including former Newsday writer Tom Verducci - who have told these stories so well over the years. Hardly any players are interviewed tonight.

BOTTOM LINE Nicely done, but fans know the story in their sleep.


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