Ken Burns on Clemens, Bonds and the Baseball Hall of Fame: 'Those Motherf-----s Should Suffer'
Ken Burns Sets Cancer Documentary
There are few with a stronger grip on the history of baseball than fillmmaker Ken Burns, and perhaps no one has had a bigger hand in mythologizing the game in the last 20 years. His famed 10-part documentary series, Baseball, helped frame the up and down legacy of America's pastime, and Burns still maintains an intense obsession with the sport -- as he more than displayed in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter.
Burns was in Manhattan on Monday to accept an honor from the New York Film Critics Circle for his new documentary, Central Park Five, which deals with the sad legacy of five black and hispanic teenagers who were coerced into giving false confessions to a gang rape in Central Park in 1989. It was deemed the case of the century -- this, before O.J. Simpson led a lowspeed chase in his Bronco -- and new evidence saw their convictions finally overturned in 2002. Burns' film, which was given the NYCFF's best documentary award, tackles the process through which those false confessions were obtained, and the video interviews have been subpoened by the NYPD, which wants to use them in a lawsuit over the alleged misdeeds of the department. Thus far, Burns and his co-director, his daughter Sarah and her husband Dave McMahon, have refused to hand them over.
Burns and his co-directors spoke with THR about baseball, Central Park Five and more.
The Hollywood Reporter: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza are all on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Would you vote for them?
Ken Burns: No.
Ken Burns: I want them to suffer for a while.
THR: Even if they were good before they allegedly used steroids?
Ken Burns: I think the argument is that without a doubt, Clemens and Bonds should be in there, and at the highest levels. Barry Bonds may be the greatest baseball player of all time, and Roger Clemens -- maybe you’d get some arguments from the [Sandy] Koufax/[Pedro] Martinez sector and the Walter Johnson segment and the Nolan Ryan crowd -- but they are two of the very, very best. And before when we think they began taking, they’re Hall of Fame caliber. But at the same time, the problem is we don’t know who didn’t at all. I mean, I know one person in all of the Major Leagues I’m absolutely certain didn’t, and that’s Ichiro Suzuki. But other than that, I have no guarantee that anyone you loved and think is way above that didn’t do it. And that is why they need to wait and wait and wait. Because it makes it impossible for us to judge excellence in this era.
THR: I grew up a Mets fan and love Mike Piazza, but I know there was suspicion. But what about someone like him where there was never actually any connection?
Ken Burns: Well that’s the problem. This is what this whole thing does, who did and who didn’t? He should ask this guy; we’ve been talking to steroids for many, many years now.
Dave McMahon: I’m not sure we’ll ever know for certain, and I would even disagree with Ken that we don’t know Ichiro Suzuki didn’t use. Tom Boswell, when we were making the 10th Inning, told us that -- he talked about how in this day and age, it was not acceptable that players used but understandable with all the pressures on them. And then he had this blind spot for Brady Anderson, who he watched for years, and he said, "No, I saw the stretches he did on that yoga ball, it makes sense that he went from 17 to 51 home runs in the course of a year. He definitely didn’t use." And I thought, we cannot know, we’re not in a place to judge unless we have hard evidence.