09/19/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
PBS (Sun., Sept. 18, 8 p.m. ET)
There is great joy in Mudville this night (and for eight more evenings to come). Ken Burns has hit a grand slam with this magnificent history of our nation's pastime.
The filmmaker (see story, page 205) uses many of the same techniques that made his Civil War a landmark television event: slow pans across period photographs, voices (among them, those of Adam Arkin, Garrison Keillor and Philip Bosco) reading from journals, poems and newspaper accounts as well as anecdotes told by such on-cam-era enthusiasts as Roger Angell, Mario Cuomo, Billy Crystal and Bob Costas. But the Muse of this series, as Shelby Foote was for The Civil War, is Daniel Okrent, the current managing editor of LIFE, who shares a remarkable cache of baseball lore.
The series, organized chronologically into nine "innings," examines the game from the 1840s to the present (accelerating in the 1920s when Babe Ruth and the movie camera ushered in the modern age). Along the way, the series celebrates a parade of baseball immortals, from Christy Mathewson to Pete Rose. Burns is punctilious about honoring great blacks from the segregated Negro leagues. In fact, no player in these annals receives as much sustained attention as Jackie Robinson, who broke the Major League race barrier in 1947.
Baseball is a monumental achievement, perhaps too monumental for TV For fans, it is a sumptuous feast. But its 18½-hour length will daunt those without an acute interest in the game. That is not to gainsay the film's surpassing quality. Baseball is truly in a league of its own.