Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, And The Battle For The Soul of A City by Jonathan Mahler. Whew! Long title, but what a great book. My wife got this book for me and my first thought oh great, she bought me an anti-Yankee book. I was pleasently suprised when it wasn’t anti-Yankee in the least. Instead, Jonathan Mahler takes us not only into the locker room of the 1977 New York Yankees, but provides a great backdrop of a story about life in baseball, New York and good ol’ USA period. Reading this book is like reading five different stories, all going on at the same time. You would think it could get a little confusing, however, Mahler does a tremendous job of weaving through each story while still bringing it back to the Yankees.
For me, The Bronx is Burning hits on all my favorite subjects. First, it touches on the New York Yankees. People forget, but 1977 is the first year Reggie Jackson played ball for the Yankees. He was at the time, the first player to make it big on the newly established free agency concept and good ol’ George Steinbrenner make Reggie a very rich man in the process. This also happens to be the year when an 8 year old kid in Iowa (me), fell in love with the Yankees and has been a die-hard fan ever since.
While I don’t remember much about 1977, I do remember how my facination with the Yankees became bigger and bigger. Thurman Munson was my favorite player. Tough, talented and the team captain. He and many of the other Yankees were not big fans of the out landish Jackson. Mahler gives you an in-depth look into this world, from Munson’s disapproval over Jackson’s actions, to Jackson feeling like an outcast, to Jackson’s teamates feeling underpaid. Moreover, the story is about Jackson and his need to be accepted conflicting with a fiesty little manager with a pit bull mentality in Billy Martin who battled alcohol, depression and feeling inferior. Of course this dosen’t even bring in the Boss and the influences he wields in the locker room without having to be present.
Strangly enough, The Bronx is Burning is a story about how a team who seemed to be ripping appart somehow comes along and wins the World Series. Mahler even provides details of how Jackson and Munson almost came to blows in the locker room, the famous fight on national television between Jackson and Martin in the Yankee dugout. Even more telling is how Martin lived every day wondering if he was even going to be manager the next day, in particular during one stretch where it seemed the Yankees lost more than they were winning and nobody was getting along. It’s an amazing story.
It is also a reflection of New York City, America and the world in 1977. The Yankees were a microcosom of a much larger picture, which brings me to my other favorite subjects, history, politics and social interactions. New York City was in a transition stage, dealing with massive debt, union issues, a very heated political race that boarders on almost too strange to be real. The charactors were all built as if out of a novel rather than real life. Mahler brings to life the intense, brutal and wild political battle for mayor of New York. In particular two names who we would get to know more about in the years following 1977 with Koch and Cumo. But, what a story it is to watch these two and others get into it.
To top it off, you have some guy named Rupert Murdoch coming into the scene and turning the media world upside down the sensationalist reporting of all the bad things about New York. You get an indepth look into how Murdoch began to build his media power house and his attempts to change the face of news reporting. This is no more greatly enhanced when during the summer months the Son of Sam serial killings were going on. So in all the crazyness going on, New York is dealing with a serial killer and Mahler gives you insight into the investigation of the killings and how it began to effect New York and its people.
And just as you think nothing more can go on, Mahler does a fantastic job detailing the changing of neighborhoods from once the pride of one immigrant group after another to fall into crime, destuction and waste as high rise public housing became dominant. You get inside looks into the lives of those who watched their neighborhoods go from Leave It Too Beaver to gang ridden shells of a history long past. The story is also about areas revitalized as the art world took over and the rebuilding of areas long forgotten had begun. Areas once left for dead, rebuilt and showing a new spark for life. Even more than the changing of neighborhoods, Mahler talks about the *** community, drugs, the disco nightlife and other aspects of life in New York 1977.
However, despite all this, the key element of the book which really took me by suprise was the indepth look into the massive power outage that ended in riots, neighborhoods burning and rampent crime as the outage dragged on. The story is facinating and you get a moment by moment detail from when the first hint of a problem began, to the fight to prevent impending disaster, to the disaster becoming a reality followed by riots, arson, crime, and the police reponse which makes any incidents today look rather tame. The story behind the power outage is downright mind bending and I was completely taken in by the details.
It was a wild 1977. There are elements of this book to make you sit back and laugh. Things like that don’t happen today. We talk about roids in baseball and yet Mahler talks about a pitcher who threw a perfect game while high as a kite on LSD and dosen’t even remember playing the game. Beer was in the dugouts, DURING GAMES! Imagine A-Rod knocking a 450 foot shot into upper deck coming in and chugging a cold one. You can’t! But, that was life in 1977. I was 8 and my world consisted of little league, baseball cards, riding my bike and living in quiet calm Iowa. I had no clue what kind of crazyness was going on then. Though I new the Yankees were my team and they had quite the personality. It was one of the reasons why I liked them so much. Each player seemed larger than life, a story behind the story.
Which, is why I like this book so much. You get the complete picture from Mahler. Nothing is left out and I greatly enjoyed how all these seemingly seperate events somehow, in some strange confluence of universal connection, infuenced each of the other events. A world intertwined by the reality of the time, closely bundled into a tremendous book.
Even if your not a Yankee fan, the other stories are worth reading for their sure enjoyment. I highly recommend this book and by my grade I give it an A+. So do not delay, pick up a copy of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning by Jonathan Mahhler today.