WALPOLE, NH—Exhausted and haggard documentarian Ken Burns begged Major League Baseball to cease operations Tuesday, saying that any future games, trades, or league action would warrant further installments of the filmmaker’s sprawling, now 23-hour-long documentary Baseball.
Burns’ announcement came after PBS’s broadcast of Baseball: The Tenth Inning, an update to the series that covers the years 1994 to the present. Addressing reporters, a gaunt and drawn Burns said that exploring the ever-evolving relationship between Americans and their national pastime was slowly killing him.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Burns said. “The more baseball that is played, the more I have to document. But it’s futile. The documentary will never end, because in order for it to end, baseball itself would have to end. I’m always playing catch-up ball. The Tenth Inning, The Eleventh Inning, The 2,945th Inning. Christ, how many more of these things will I have to make?”
“Please—if not for my sake, then for the sake of my wife and children, please stop,” Burns continued. “If you don’t, I will die knowing that baseball has kept going, and that the thing I’m most famous for will be remembered as an incomplete failure.”
According to Burns, as long as baseball is played, he will always feel a perpetual compulsion to film storylines that not only reflect the state of the game but also make a broader point about society itself. The worn-out filmmaker rhetorically asked reporters who, if not Burns himself, would be the one to spend countless hours documenting the historic significance of a second dead-ball era, or a Chicago Cubs World Series title.
“Say, for example, baseball doesn’t stop, the 2011 season begins, and by the All-Star break fans start saying things like, ‘During the Great Recession, baseball served as a national escape from dire economic times,’” Burns continued. “That’s another goddamn inning right there. Sure, it’s only two hours to you, but to me it’s 20-hour days for the next two years of my life.”
Burns told reporters he spends sleepless night after sleepless night worrying that more postseasons could potentially lead to the Philadelphia Phillies becoming the modern era’s version of a dynasty, a theme he would have to tirelessly explore if he ever wanted to truly document the history of the sport. Moreover, Burns said that if the Yankees ceased to exist, viewers wouldn’t expect a future segment devoted to Yogi Berra’s eventual passing that draws parallels between both the death of a bygone era in baseball history and the death of a more innocent time in U.S. history.
Burns added he also wouldn’t mind if he never had to talk to Bob Costas or Billy Crystal ever again.
“I guess I really backed myself into a corner with this whole Baseball thing,” Burns said. “The Civil War, Huey Long, Lewis and Clark—none of these topics were open-ended. But baseball. Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?”
According to Burns, when he reunited with coproducer Lynn Novick for The Tenth Inning, the mere sight of Novick, coupled with the mountains of footage they had to sort through, instantly fatigued him to the point of collapse. Burns said he was less able than ever before to stay awake during his interviews with journalist George Will, and at one point “barked” at historian Doris Kearns Goodwin to wrap it up.
Editors who worked with the filmmaker said they noticed a more drained and indifferent Burns this time around, explaining that the documentarian would enter their editing bay, look at the footage, tell them to “Ken Burns it up,” and then leave.
Sources later confirmed that Burns was repeatedly overheard muttering, “Might as well just dedicate my whole fucking life to this shit.”
“Truth be told, I don’t even like baseball. It’s boring, predictable, and tedious,” said the 57-year-old, adding that the only time he has ever felt as though his life were a complete waste was when he sat across from his interview subjects as they sang “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” “I’ve only been to one baseball game, and I left after the fifth inning. I didn’t even care that I missed Carlton Fisk’s home run.”
“All I know is that baseball is an important part of the American experience,” he continued, “a stupid, overwrought, and saccharine part, but an important part nevertheless. And that’s the only reason I ever wanted to cover it in the first place. But know this: Every second I’ve spent on this thing has been sheer torture. I am begging the commissioner, fans, and players to let baseball die.”
When asked for comment, Commissioner Bud Selig said this baseball season, as well as all subsequent seasons, would go on as scheduled.