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HBO presents
Nine Innings From Ground Zero (2005)

"For the rest of that year, anyway, we weren't the hated Yankees. We were the symbol of the people going through this." 
- Scott Brosius, on the post-9/11 2001 Bronx Bombers

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: March 29, 2005

Stars: Rudolph Giuliani, Bobby Valentine, Joe Torre, Mark Shields, Paul O'Neill, Buster Olney, Mark Grace, Bob Brenly, Derek Jeter, Curt Schilling, George W. Bush, Scott Brosius, Liza Minnelli
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:02m:10s
Release Date: March 29, 2005
UPC: 026359255724
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-BB- D-

DVD Review

The sports pages are often filled with tired bromides about the social import of athletics—I spend far too much of my time watching, attending and reading about sporting events, and there's 24-hour sports talk radio when there isn't a game. (Truly, your life as a sports fan isn't complete until you've listened to a couple of rants called in to WFAN by Jerome from Manhattan, one of my cult heroes.) There are some verbal cues when a sportswriter is getting all bigthink, too—you'll start to see references to all of athletics as "sport," for instance, or you'll hear about philosophies and movements.

But any New Yorker who lived through the attacks of September 11th can vouch for the fact that the Yankees' playoff run that year was freighted with psychological significance—it was in many ways the first public instance of the city trying to get back to normal, and normal in those days meant the Yankees winning the World Series. This documentary, first shown on HBO, probably claims too much for the healing power of baseball; but at a time when the principal civic activity was sorting through the physical and psychological shards of the worst attack on American soil in our country's history, baseball was a welcome respite from the unthinkable horrors of 9/11.

The film starts with a brief recap of the attack, and even three and a half years later, it's difficult to watch much of this—the desperation on the faces of family members hopefully brandishing fliers with faces of loved ones, for instance, are that much more sad, knowing that almost none of those being searched for ever made it home. Shea Stadium, home of my Mets, became a staging area for rescue workers, and Bobby Valentine, then the Mets manager, worked tirelessly; Joe Torre took his Yankee team to Ground Zero, and many of the Yankees visited with family members of the victims. (True, it's sweet to see children who have lost a parent get a moment of cheer from a phone call from Derek Jeter. But really now: if personal tragedy struck, would you want to be comforted by Don Zimmer?) Perhaps the most emotional night was the first ballgame after the attacks, the Braves versus the Mets at Shea; you could tell that this was a unique moment because Hizzoner, Rudy Giuliani, who had as much as taken personal responsibility for the three previous Yankees championships during his administration, showed up. Liza Minnelli was there, too—not because she's such an ardent baseball fan, but to sing New York, New York during the seventh inning stretch—in her words, "it became a fight song."

The bulk of the film, though, is devoted to that year's World Series, in which the Yankees played the Arizona Diamondbacks; the film is probably at its weakest in the uncomfortable cross-cutting from ballgames to Ground Zero, suggesting a sort of equivalence, and this isn't aided by a pretty fatuous voice over track, narrated by Liev Schreiber. (It's full of trite observations, like: "In the aftermath of September 11th, the mood of the country changed," and: "To a city steeped in despair, the Yankees became a beacon of hope.") The World Series that year was full of drama, but the best moments here aren't on the field—the sadness and terror of a bomb-sniffing dog going through the Yankees' locker room before the game, for instance, or the rousing reception for President Bush when he threw out the first pitch, all the blue state/red state stuff set aside, for all the right reasons. (One of the nice, light moments here is the President recounting the advice he got just before the game from Derek Jeter—stand on the pitching rubber, and if you bounce the ball to the plate, you'll get booed. President Bush acquitted himself admirably, with a fastball just catching the corner.)

The real indication that things were getting back to normal was stuff like chants from the bleachers of "Schilling Sucks," and the Diamondbacks' eventual victory placed the New York franchise in an uncomfortable position: were the Yankees now lovable losers? Of course, this moment of civic unity has passed—Bobby Valentine was fired, as was his successor; the same happened to Bob Brenly, manager of the world champion Arizona Diamondbacks; and now that the chatter is about Jason Giambi and steroids, the Yankees seem a whole lot less pure, and aren't exactly embraced by the great majority west of the Hudson. No one thing, other than time, can reweave the social fabric that was rent so brutally on September 11th, but as this documentary indicates, baseball did more than its share.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Adequate transfer, with some resolution problems probably stemming from all the video footage.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Some static and pop, but all perfectly audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Only subtitles and chapter stops.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

This film certainly claims too much for the therapeutic power of our national pastime, but it vividly recaptures the uneasy fall of 2001 in New York, with lots of great footage and recollections from those most affected, ranging from the families of 9/11 victims, to President Bush and Mayor Giuliani, to those who diverted us by playing some deeply thrilling baseball games. 


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