Opening of Ken Burns' Baseball:
It is played everywhere, in parks and playgrounds, prison yards, in back alleys and farmers fields, by small boys and old men, raw amateurs and millionaire professionals. It is a leisurely game that demands blinding speed; the only game in which the defense has the ball. It follows the seasons, beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime and ending with the hard facts of autumn.
American's have played baseball for more than 200 years; while they conquered a continent, warred with each other and with enemies abroad, struggled over labor and civil rights, and with the meaning of freedom.
At its heart lie mythic contradictions: a pastoral game born in crowded cities, an exhilarating democratic sport that tolerates cheating, and has excluded as many as it has included. A profoundly conservative game that often manages to be years ahead of its time. It is an American Odyssey that links sons and daughters to fathers and grandfathers, and it reflects a host of age old American tensions; between workers and owners, scandal and reform, the individual and the collective.
It is a haunted game in which every player is measured with the ghosts of those who have gone before. Most of all it is about time and timelessness, speed and grace, failure and loss, imperishable hope, and coming home.
The game's greatest figures have come from everywhere: coal mines and college campuses, city slums and country crossroads. A brawling Irish immigrant's son [John McGraw] who for more than half a century preached a rough and scrambling brand of baseball in which anything went so as long victory was achieved; and his favorite player, a college educated righthander [Christy Mathewson] so uniformly virtuous that millions of schoolboys worshiped him as The Christian Gentleman.
A mill hand who could neither read nor write [Joe Jackson] who might have been one of the games greatest heroes if temptation had not proved too great. A flamboyant federal judge [Judge Landis] who at first saved baseball from a scandal that threatened to destroy it, but later became an implacable enemy of reform.
A miners son [Mickey Mantle] from Commerce, Oklahoma, who made himself the game's most powerful switch hitter despite 17 seasons of ceaseless pain. A tight-fisted Methodist [Branch Rickey], 'a cross', one sportswriter said, 'between a statistician and an evangelist', who profoundly changed the game twice. And there were those whose true greatness was never fully measured because of the stubborn prejudice that permeated the nation and its favorite game.
Two of baseball's best began life in rural Georgia: A swift and savage competitor [Ty Cobb] who may have been the greatest player of all time, but whose uncontrollable rage in the end made him more enemies than friends, and another no less fierce competitor [Jackie Robinson] who, because he managed to hold his temper, made professional baseball a truly national pastime more than a century after it was born.
And then there was the Baltimore saloon keeper's turbulent son [Babe Ruth], who became the best known and best loved athlete in American history.