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Re: The Documentaries of Ken Burns

Ms. Watters takes my list of commentators out of context. I mention various interviewees in Baseball - a list prefaced with "for example"-to illustrate the eclectic range of people Ken Burns marshals in all his films.There are admittedly less women involved in Baseball than in other Burns documentaries, but Doris Kearns-Goodwin is by no means the only female interviewed. In fact, Burns devotes much time and several chapters to women involved with the game, notably Jackie Robinson's equally heroic wife, Rachel, as well as those who actually played or owned teams, including segments on:  the formation of women's baseball teams at women's colleges in New York and New England  female pitching great Jackie Mitchell  the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, with interviews of former Rockford Peaches players Dottie Green, Marie Kelley, and Mary Pratt Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles and the only female owner in the Negro Leagues
The documentary series Jazz contains many more female voices. Not only are there more female commentators (Margo Jefferson, Helen Oakley Dance, Phoebe Jacobs, Mercedes Ellington, Chan Parker, Joya Sherrill, Norma Miller), but a number of women comprise the art's most central figures, such as Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Still, celebrated historian Jacques Barzun (a Parisian by birth and childhood, mind you) famously and rightly counseled: "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."
Part of what informs his comment is that baseball, like Jazz music, serves as a perfect microcosm of American life.Sadly, a big part of that story is injustice. Baseball's most glaring injustice was the Color Ban, a conspiracy which kept black Americans out of the supposedly "National Pastime" for nearly 70 years. But both Ken Burns and I would be quick to point out another terrible injustice: on June 21, 1952, Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick banned the signing of women to professional contracts. With the stroke of a pen, Frick snuffed out an entire league and an era. (My article, "Will women ever be welcome on the baseball field?" appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, April 5, 2009.)
If, however, you find the documentaries of Ken Burns tedious, then I am forced to that say the onus of responsibility sits entirely on your shoulders; as Wynton Marsalis says in Jazz about all great art, you have to rise up to its level, it won't come to you.

Patrick Walsh

read his column:
"Ameriican Treasures: The Documentaries of Ken Burns"

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