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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning


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Back to the Bronx Zoo

5:00 PM, October 26, 2006

Bronx_Reggie.jpg

I missed the NYT piece from Tuesday on ESPN's big miniseries for the summer, currently filming in Connecticut but set in the Bronx in the summer of 1977, based on Jonathan Mahler's superb cultural history from last year, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning, which brought life again to the tabloid hotspots of that long, hot summer in a city that felt on the brink of something: the feuding, fantastic Yankees as well as the Son of Sam, the blackout, the rise of punk and disco, and more. The article focuses on the Yankees side of the story (and maybe, seeing as it's on ESPN, so does the miniseries), and I'm hooked, just on this: John Turturro as Billy Martin, with prosthetic ears. My favorite tidbit:

Nettles said he gave a crucial tip to the actor playing Lou Piniella, Mather Zickel. "Lou had this nervous habit of smelling his hair," Nettles said, smiling with the knowledge that their teammates will chuckle when they see Zickel smell his hair.

But to any old Yankee hater (like me), this information is very disturbing:

Jeffrey Maier, the fan who deflected Derek Jeter's fly ball into a home run during Game 1 of the Yankees-Orioles American League Championship Series in 1996 and then played for Wesleyan University, is playing third in the baseball sequences.

That damn kid, let's be honest, should be locked up for life. --Tom, Amazon Bookstore

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Wow... I read the book and liked it alots. I can't wait to see this series!

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Yanks for the memories

By Kieran Darcy

WATERFORD, Conn. ? One of my greatest thrills thus far in my journalism career was walking into the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium for the first time, back on Opening Day 2002.

Having been born and raised a Yankee fan, the Stadium has always been a special place to me. But to get a peek behind the curtain ? to see the room the team calls home and walk amongst the players ? well, that was simply unforgettable.

Something I haven't gotten to do yet is cover a clubhouse or locker room championship celebration. I've always wondered what that would be like ? particularly if it was a Yankees celebration. Honestly, if I was in the Yankees' clubhouse after they won a World Series, I'd probably ditch my notebook and tape recorder within seconds and go hug Don Mattingly as hard as I could until security removed me from the premises.

(Whoops ? probably shouldn't have let my editors in on that. Or Donnie Baseball. Oh well.)

Anyway, unfortunately the Yankees haven't cooperated and won a World Series over the past few years. But last week I received an e-mail from someone working on the upcoming ESPN miniseries "The Bronx Is Burning," asking if I would like to visit the set and watch them shoot the scenes of the Yankees celebrating their 1977 World Series victory.

How could I say no?

The miniseries is based on Jonathan Mahler's book "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning," which chronicles not only the highly volatile 1977 New York Yankees but the city's entire experience that year ? including the Son of Sam killings, the citywide blackout and a hotly contested mayoral race. It's slated to air on ESPN next summer.

Soon after I arrived at Sonalysts Studios, where several interior areas of Yankee Stadium have been recreated, I received a special treat. Maury Allen and Steve Jacobson, two well-known reporters who covered the '77 Yankees, were visiting the set to film cameos. I was lucky enough to get to pick their brains about the team. I'd read plenty about the '77 Yanks, but I wasn't born until 1978, so I was very curious to hear their memories.

"It was the most intriguing collection of players that ever got on a field at one time in one season," said Allen. "The great fun was the turmoil. You went to the ballpark every day, and you knew something controversial would be said, a mini-firestorm."

"They'd be at the brink of a brawl at the door of the clubhouse," Jacobson added, "but once they took the field, they were driven to succeed. If anything, they didn't want to fail in front of their teammates."

For a good half hour Allen and Jacobson poured out story after story about covering those Yankees ? particularly Thurman Munson (neither was very fond of him, to put it mildly), Reggie Jackson (a much more interesting interview) and Billy Martin (depended on the day) ? far too many stories to relay here. Plus, well, let's just say a couple of the stories weren't exactly family-friendly.

I also asked about their thoughts on the current Yankees. "Obviously it's the dullest team they've had in many years," said Jacobson. "And that's mostly because of Derek Jeter, who's never said anything of interest to anyone in the media since his first couple of years [in New York]."

Allen chimed in: "The fact that Joe Torre, for 11 years now, has been able to stick around and deal with Steinbrenner is one of the great miracles in the history of baseball."

After that, we headed downstairs to check out the set. First we popped into the manager's office. Both Allen and Phil Pepe, another veteran reporter who covered the '77 team, agreed that it was pretty darn accurate, for the most part. "I think the TV was over here though," Pepe remarked, pointing to the left side of the room. "And it would have been a bottle of vodka on the desk, not tequila."

Next we entered the clubhouse. It looked pretty authentic to me, right down to the old cigarette machine and the eight-track stereo sitting in Reggie Jackson's locker. "This is pretty close, absolutely," said Allen, gazing around wistfully, as if he were in a time machine. "You can smell the smelly jocks in here it's so accurate."

Soon we were being asked to leave the clubhouse ? staff members were covering the clubhouse floor in plastic wrap for the champagne celebration scenes. The actors were just finishing up rehearsing and getting ready to shoot a scene, so we headed to a group of director's chairs to watch the action.

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Oliver Platt

Ron Galella/WireImage.com

Can you see him playing The Boss? Yeah, not that big a stretch.

In this particular scene, George Steinbrenner is walking in a Yankee Stadium tunnel, surrounded by reporters, spouting off about ? you guessed it ? Billy Martin. Steinbrenner is being played by Oliver Platt, and he certainly looks like The Boss (a younger version, of course), clad in a plaid sport coat and bright white shoes.

Platt flubbed a line on the first take, but still impressed Allen, who said, "Wow, he's really got Steinbrenner's rhythm of speaking down!"

On the second take, Platt walked too fast and ran out of room in the tunnel. But it seemed like he nailed the third take ? and I figured they would move on to another scene.

Boy, was I wrong.

We ended up watching take after take after take of the same scene over the next three hours or so. The scene was barely more than a minute long, but I was told it was a complicated scene to shoot, and had to be filmed from multiple angles with different lighting setups. All I know is, I don't think I have the patience to work in the film industry.

The actors were slated to get a one-hour break after this scene was finished, followed by some more rehearsing, so I didn't get a chance to see the celebration scenes after all. Didn't bother me one bit, though. I'd already gotten a big thrill, getting to sit down and talk with two elder statesmen of my craft.

I'll take that over a champagne-sprayed clubhouse any day.

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