In New York City, in the 1840s, people need a diversion from the "railroad pace" at which they work and live. They find it in a game of questionable origins. Inning One, Our Game, looks at the origins of baseball in the 1840s and takes the story up to 1900. Burns refutes the myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown and traces its roots instead to the earliest days of the nation.
In 1894, a sportswriter named Byron Bancroft "Ban" Johnson takes over a struggling minor league - the Western League - and turns it into a financial success. Inning Two, Something Like a War, takes viewers through 1910 and introduces some of the game's most celebrated and colorful characters, including Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
Before and after World War I, a steady stream of immigrants land on the shores of America. They want instantly to become American, to pursue the American dream, to play the American game. Inning Three, The Faith of Fifty Million People, examines the century's second decade, which was dominated by the Black Sox scandal. George Herman "Babe" Ruth makes his first major league appearance.
The 1920s begin with America trying to recover from World War I and baseball trying to recover from the scandal of the 1919 World Series. Inning Four, A National Heirloom, concentrates on Babe Ruth, whose phenomenal performance thrilled the nation throughout the 1920s and rescued the game from the scandal of the previous decade.
Throughout America, and even on the baseball diamonds in New York's Central Park, thousands of homeless people build shantytowns called "Hoovervilles." More than ever, America needs heroes. And even as it struggles to make it through the Depression, baseball provides them. Inning Five, Shadow Ball, tells the story of the Negro Leagues in the 1930s, excluded from major league play at that time.
Inning Six, The National Pastime, covers the 1940s and includes Joe DiMaggio's celebrated hitting streak, the awe-inspiring performance of Ted Williams and what Burns calls "baseball's finest moment" — the debut of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Inning Seven, The Capital of Baseball, takes viewers through the 1950s when New York City had three successful baseball teams and dominated the World Series. By the end of the decade, the Giants and Dodgers had left New York, a signal that the old game was changed forever.
The 1960s are a turbulent decade for America and turbulent decade for baseball, as one by one its "sacred" institutions fall. Inning Eight, A Whole New Ball Game, moves the field to the 1960s. This episode traces the emergence of television, the expansion to new cities and the building of anonymous multipurpose stadiums that robbed the game of its intimacy and some of its urban following.
In an age of globalization and deregulation, a cataclysmic strike over money and power brings baseball to the brink. Inning Nine, Home, looks at baseball from the 1970s to the 1990s, including the establishment of the free agent system, the rise in player salaries, the continued expansion, the dilution of talent, the ongoing battles between labor and management and the scandals.