This article possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research should be removed. (April 2014) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Baseball is similar to Burns' previous documentaries such as The Civil War, in the use of archived pictures and film footage mixed with interviews for visual presentation. Actors provide voice over reciting written work (letters, speeches, etc.) over pictures and video. The episodes are interspersed with the music of the times taken from previous Burns series, original played music, or recordings ranging from Louis Armstrong to Elvis Presley. The series was narrated by John Chancellor, the former anchor of the NBC Nightly News from 1970 to 1982.
The documentary is divided into nine parts, each referred to as an "inning", following the division of a baseball game. Each "inning" reviews a particular era in time, mentioning notable moments in the world and in America itself, and begins with a brief prologue that acts as an insight to the game during that era. The prologue ends with the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" just as a real baseball game would begin, being performed usually by a brass band, with a couple of exceptions: The 1920s, where the rendition is played by a piano of the era, and the 1960s, where the rendition is the version played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. In some "inning" episodes, a period version of the baseball anthem "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is used. Roughly halfway through each "inning", a title card appears, reading "Bottom of" the inning, dividing the episode in two parts in a manner also recalling the game; in the seventh "inning", the "Bottom" is immediately preceded by the "seventh-inning stretch". Within these halves of the episode, there are smaller segments also highlighted with a simple title card that often highlight various important parts of baseball's history. These often include player highlights, important or eventful games, or the creation of various brands that are now well known throughout baseball such as Louisville Slugger.
Major themes explored throughout the documentary are those of race, business, labor relations, and the relationship between baseball and society. The series had an audience of 45 million viewers, which makes it the most watched program in Public Television history.
The Nine Innings
1st Inning – Our Game
This inning serves as an introduction to the game and the series, and covers baseball's origins and the game as it evolved prior to the 20th century.
This inning covers approximately 1910 to 1920, and follows baseball as it goes through its greatest era of popularity yet. It heavily focuses on the Black Sox Scandal, taking its title from a line in the novel The Great Gatsby. The line refers to how easy it was for gamblers to tamper with the faith that people put in the game's fairness.
This inning covers approximately 1920 to 1930, and focuses on baseball's recovery from the Black Sox Scandal, giving much of the credit to the increase in power hitting throughout the game, led by its savior Babe Ruth. The title comes from what sports writers called Ruth. During an interview given to MLB Network during the series' re-airing in 2009, Burns stated that he originally wanted to title the 4th Inning "That Big Son-of-a-Bitch", a name given to Ruth by many in the game during that era. However, the companion book uses this title.
Original airdate: Wednesday, September 21, 1994.
5th Inning – Shadow Ball
This inning covers approximately 1930 to 1940. A great deal of this inning covers the Negro leagues, and the great players and organizers who were excluded from the Major Leagues. Also, the episode deals with organized Baseball's response to the Great Depression, as well as the sad decline of its most iconic star, Babe Ruth, and the emergence of new heroes, like Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Joe DiMaggio.
Original airdate: Thursday, September 22, 1994.
6th Inning – The National Pastime
This inning covers approximately 1940 to 1950. The emphasis here is on baseball finally becoming what it had always purported to be: a national game. As African-Americans are finally permitted for good into Major League Baseball, led by Jackie Robinson. This inning also looks at how the game responded to World War II and how the game became, more than ever, a symbol of America itself.
This inning covers approximately 1950 to 1960. Burns emphasizes the greatness of the three teams based in New York (the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and Brooklyn Dodgers). This inning also covers one of baseball's golden eras and how America's own changes, such as leaving urban areas and heading west to more open suburbs, caused baseball to follow.
This inning covers approximately 1960 to 1970. As the nation underwent turbulent changes, baseball was not immune, as Babe Ruth's beloved record of 60 home runs in a season is threatened by a sullen and complicated player, Roger Maris, and for the first time in decades, pitchers, led by stars Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, dominate the game. The loss of home run power and betrayal to the game's past, combined with the meteoric rise of football, cause many to turn their back on baseball. Expansion and labor are major topics in this inning.
The final inning covers approximately 1970 to 1992. While baseball survived the 1960s, the changes were not over, and in some ways, its most bitter conflicts were just beginning. Major topics include the formation of the players' union, the owners' collusion, free agency, and drugs, as well as gambling, scandals. However, the game manages to win back the hearts of many with such moments as the excitement of the 1975 World Series and the return of the New York Yankees to dominance. The documentary ends with an ironic boast that baseball (and indirectly the World Series) had survived wars, depressions, pandemics, and numbers of scandals and thus could never be stopped. The 1994 World Series, the series to be played the year the film first aired on PBS, was cancelled due to a players' strike. This marked the first time since 1904 that the World Series was not played.
Original airdate: Wednesday, September 28, 1994.
10th Inning – (Episode 1, Top of the 10th)
This two part, four hour encore presentation covers stories from the 1990's to present day. The first part discusses the labor stoppage of the 1990s, as well as Mark McGwire's and Sammy Sosa's pursuit of the home run record in 1998.
Original airdate: Monday, November 8, 2010.
10th Inning – (Episode 2, Bottom of the 10th)
This two part, four hour encore presentation covers stories from the 1990's to present day. The second part spends a fair amount of time covering the steroid scandal in the 2000's.
Original airdate: Monday, November 15, 2010.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of people not involved in baseball who were interviewed in the documentary:
The series was generally well received by critics and audiences, but received criticism for its length and detail. At 18.5 hours, the runtime of the series is one of Burns' longest.
The first episode more than doubled PBS's average primetime ratings with a Nielsen rating of 5.1 and an audience share of 7% but did not do as well as Civil War's 9 rating and 13% share.
Re-airings on PBS and MLB Network
The documentary is made available to local PBS stations to air as part of their programming. Usually these can be found on weekends or during pledge drives.
Starting in 2009 the series also can be found on MLB Network Sunday nights at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT. These airings include commercial breaks which stretch the run time of each episode from around 1 hour to 2 or even 3 depending on how many breaks MLB Network adds to the episode. As the series was intended to air commercial-free on public television the breaks are often quite abrupt. The first episode to air on the network also had utterances of the word "nigger" (as read from first person accounts or quotes from the time) bleeped out, despite the language of the episode being heard uncensored on over-the-air PBS stations for years. Later episodes dropped this censoring but added a disclaimer at the beginning of the program warning that it contained offensive language.
The Tenth Inning
At a preview screening of his 2007 documentary The War, Ken Burns spoke of the possibility of coming up to date in the history of baseball with a "Tenth Inning" episode of his Baseball documentary. This was officially confirmed by Burns in an MLB Network interview, and later to the NBC LA web site during the winter Television Critics Association media tour January 8. It aired in Fall 2010 and covered the period from the 1992 strike through the 2009 season.
During in-game coverage of a Texas Rangers game during July 2009, Burns was interviewed, and said The Tenth Inning would air "about a year from now" on PBS. He also stated that it would be two two-hour programs. One would be the "top of the 10th", and the other would be the "bottom of the 10th". He also said that "the good Lord willing", there would be an 11th Inning and a 12th Inning in the future. His aim is to air the 11th Inning in 2020 opening with Armando Galarraga. Burns also said that Baseball is the only one of his documentaries to which he was ever interested in doing a "sequel" (of sorts).
The Tenth Inning premiered on PBS on September 28, 2010, narrated by Keith David. The Inning was broken into two halves airing on September 28 and 29, 2010 and October 5, 2010. The documentary discussed the major stories of the last fifteen years in baseball. It focuses heavily on examining the Steroid era and the many players who got caught up in it, but also discusses other major issues in baseball, such as how baseball rebounded from the 1994 strike largely thanks to the selflessness of Cal Ripken Jr. and other players, the return to prominence of the Yankees, the influence of international players (specifically Dominican and Japanese players) on the game, and the drama of the 2003 and 2004 American League Championship Series, which helped baseball, even in the midst of America's greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, become as popular as it has ever been.
As a postscript, Marcos Breton, the Sacramento Bee writer who was interviewed extensively during the film, finally realized his boyhood dream of watching the Giants win their first World Championship in San Francisco shortly after the film premiered on PBS.
Ken Burns has talked in interviews about the possibility of making an 11th inning.
The entire series was released on a ten-disc DVD set on October 17, 2000 from PBS DVD Gold. It was Re-issued on September 28, 2004, with each inning on a separate disc, plus "Extra Innings," a tenth disc consisting of unaired material including the making of Baseball among other features. A revised DVD set, now including The Tenth Inning, was released on October 5, 2010, as was a standalone Blu-ray disc containing only The Tenth Inning. The original 9-episode series streams on PBS.org in HD (1080p), however, "The Tenth Episode" requires a PBS membership to view. PBS is releasing a restored version of the series on Blu-ray Disc on June 8, 2021 -- an 11-disc set that includes "The Tenth Inning" two-part episode.  All parts of the series are also now available through other streaming platforms besides PBS including Amazon Prime Video.