In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like Pedro Martinez, whose small bit of screen-time yesterday was the only part of Ken Burns's sad-bugle-and-Bob-Costas extravaganza that was worth a damn.
If Burns's The Tenth Inning, the two-part coda to his Baseball documentary, was terrible — and it was, right down to the use of "Glory Days" for the Red Sox's World Series, which is like scoring the Yankees' 2009 title to "More Than a Feeling" — it was at least instructively terrible.
Among other things, it was a reminder of how much the steroid frenzy of the past decade has come to resemble the lunacy surrounding the Clinton impeachment, with Bob Costas playing the role of Cokie Roberts and George Will playing the role of George Will. Throughout The Tenth Inning, baseball fans were reminded again and again of what feckless slobs we all are for not caring as deeply about steroids as Costas and Will and Steve Wilstein and most of the rest of Burns's carefully selected talking muppets. (I would imagine Gerald Early has some stuff to say on this count, but Burns never lets him talk, preferring instead to have Costas ooze all over the screen. At this point, the little guy is less a human being than an oil stain.) Over and over, we're chastised by the Very Serious People for not standing at rigid moral attention, and you half-expect Joe Lieberman to show up on camera to shake his jowls at us for a spell. I fear this is how the history of the Steroid Era will be written — by the operatically pious shits who will use the collective shrug over performance-enhancing drugs as evidence of go-go America's moral laxity.
Which brings us to Pedro Martinez. Just one of a handful of former players to speak with Burns, Pedro made the rest of the film look every bit the tight-assed, overserious exercise in McHistory that it was. Baseball misses him — watching him throw circle changes in an Expos uniform was strangely poignant — and the handful of times Pedro got to speak to Burns's camera, with that same, faintly crazy air of being the only guy in the room who's in on the joke, the surly mood of the proceedings immediately lifted. Why isn't he in a booth somewhere? Why isn't he on Baseball Tonight? Why do we always have to listen to a bunch of guys talk about baseball the way the College of Cardinals talk about the pope? Right now, baseball — to say nothing of Baseball — could use a lot more Pedro and a lot less Costas.
Image via the patron saint of the screengrab, 30fps