"When It Was A Game" was a labor of love, and when it was first televised on HBO the eyes of baseball fans were riveted and amazed. All 3 of these projects consist of "home movies" (usually shot in 8 mm), often shot by the players themselves. But almost all of these films are in vivid color - and to see the names that haunt Cooperstown in lifelike tones is an almost religious experience. It would be similar if it were possible to see color footage from the Civil War or the Constitutional Convention. Okay - I'm stretching it a little, but not by much. Baseball fans have always had a little historian in them, and although you'd be hard-pressed to find, for example, the sports fanatic who could tell you how many touchdown passes Unitas threw or how many points Wilt Chamberlain wound up with, even casual baseball fans knew numbers like 61 (the number of Home Runs Roger Maris hit in 1961), 56 (the number of consecutive games Joe DiMaggio hit safely in during the summer of 1941), 714 (Babe Ruth's lifetime home run total) and zero (the number of Brooklyn Dodgers who got on base during Don Larsen's perfect game of 1956.) If you took only the "named events" of the New York Giants at the famed Polo Grounds you could start with "the shot heard 'round the world" (Bobby Thompson's home run off Ralph Branca winning the 1951 National League pennant) and "the catch" (Willie Mays' amazing over-the-shoulder catch of Vic Wertz' 475 foot drive to deep center field, saving the game and inspiring the Giants to win the 1954 World Series.)
For fans who like their baseball heroic, "When It Was A Game" brings their heroes to full-color life.
Appropriate music and reverent narration add to the historic but vibrant qualities of the works. "When It Was A Game" was eye-catching when it debuted, and so popular that it spawned a sequel that was more or less more of the same. The third volume may be the most interesting of all (especially if you're old enough to remember watching baseball from the 1960s on), but it also adds the historical context that the innovative National League completely dominated the old boy network of the American League because of their willingness to sign Black players like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Latinos like Roberto Clemente. The NL won 19 out of 20 All-Star Games starting in 1962, and this little documentary doesn't mind saying that it was the narrow-mindedness of the American League that allowed Morgan, Stargell, Banks, Gibson, Marichal and McCovey to join Mays, Clemente and Aaron on teams that regularly trounced the other, whiter, league.
Like Ken Burns' "Baseball", this set is a video love-song to baseball.