Ken Burns’ Baseball anthology went into extra innings last night when the long awaited “Tenth Inning” was broadcast on PBS.
Some of the early reviews of Burns’ latest take on the national pastime weren’t too kind, but the general consensus was that although unremarkable, the Tenth Inning is definitely worth watching if you are a baseball fan. For the best overview of what really is a series of vignettes covering a selection of overarching themes, Alex Belth’s take is highly recommended. Unfortunately, however, the documentary ultimately boils down to just another story about steroids, and in particular, a comment made by Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell.
There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said ‘What’s that?’ and he said ‘it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake’. And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year. So it wasn’t just Canseco, and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.” – Thomas Boswell, excerpted from an interview in The Tenth Inning (via Wezen-ball.com)
At Wezen-ball.com, Larry Granillo compiled a list of possible candidates who would fit Boswell’s allegation. After drawing several inferences from Boswell’s statement, Granillo narrows down the list to eight potential suspects before concluding that Rickey Henderson most fits the profile. In a follow-up post, Granillo presents some history behind the “Jose Canseco milkshake” reference, and concludes that the vagueness behind the implication makes in unfair to single any one player out.
Although Granillo is correct to pull back from casting too strong an aspersion, it’s very likely that others are going to connect the same dots and land on Rickey Henderson. In fact, it wouldn’t be the first time that such whispers surfaced. Last July, just days after Henderson’s induction to the Hall of Fame, a story surfaced in which Jose Canseco alleged that at least one member of the hallowed institution had taken steroids. Canseco later expounded on his comment in a radio interview on ESPN 950AM in Philadelphia, suggesting that “one or two” Hall of Famers were likely on the now infamous list of 104 positives stemming from testing done in 2003. Because of the timing of the comment, and the lack of reference to the Hall of Fame in any of Canseco’s prior comments, the initial speculation centered on Henderson.
I’ll tell you this, Major League Baseball is going to have a big, big problem on their hands when they find out they have a Hall of Famer who’s used.” – Jose Canseco, quoted on ESPN.com, July 30, 2009
To be fair to Henderson, in the aforementioned radio interview, Canseco denied having any knowledge of his steroid use, but that didn’t stop the speculation. Unfortunately, the same will be true following Boswell’s vague implication.
Craig Calcattera wasn’t as interested in identifying Boswell’s mystery man, but instead took the columnist to task for casting a wide net. Calcattera is correct to call Boswell out for keeping this information under wraps, but perhaps that speaks to the flimsy nature of the allegation? In any event, the most interesting point is one echoed by Rob Neyer. If the Hall of Fame already has a PED user enshrined, what impact would/should that have on future elections?
By spending so much time on the topic of steroids, and then including a purposely veiled allegation, Burns’ Tenth Inning has probably pigeon-holed itself as just the latest in a long line of increasingly stagnant steroid exposés. With so many other great stories from the last 20 years either completely ignored or overshadowed by the focus on steroids, it seems a shame that Burns opted for this tired narrative. But, then again, that approach just might be the most fitting way to define the era. If art can imitate life, why not baseball?