Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning by Jonathan Mahler

Why I Read It: On a baseball kick, and the year the book covers was one of the first I remember.

Summary: "1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City" (the subtitle)

My Thoughts: As a kid, I knew that folks around me had a distaste for New York City. Yes, there was a particular Boston bias that festered around the sports world, about the Yankees, the Rangers and Knicks, but it ran deeper than that. New York City wasn't safe, in the sweeping, all-encompassing sense of the word.

This book has helped me understand why all the adults I knew felt that way. I've since come to love New York City for what it is and what it represents on the grand American scale, though I will be honest. I can't stand the traffic. Heading south from New England either means sitting in it or driving around it. We're bottle-necked up here, but then, New Englanders are like many other people on the planet who see their little corners of the world as the "most estimable place" on earth, to quote Thoreau. Perhaps we don't mind.

What an amazing year 1977 was for New York City. Bella Abzug, Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo were all competing for the mayor's seat. A single night without power led to millions of dollars' worth of looting that set the city on edge. David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, finally came to justice, telling the world that his neighbor's dog told him to kill. Add to this mix George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin and the Yankees' newest purchase, Reggie Jackson.

I remember the three home runs against the Dodgers in the single game in the World Series. I remember all the other names involved with the Yankees that season - Rivers, Randolph, Guidry, Hunter, etc. (heck, they were all on my baseball cards) - and even remember listening to one game mentioned in the text, blanket pulled up over my head, radio pinned close to my ear so my mother wouldn't hear. Gator Guidry struck out the first three Red Sox batters in succession on ten or eleven pitches to the rousing - and what I remember sounding pretty belligerently scary to a six-year-old - cheers of the Yankee Stadium crowd.

What I didn't know at six was the undercurrent. I had no idea what "race" even meant in those days unless used with qualifiers such as "three-legged" or "motorcycle." I knew Reggie Jackson as a ridiculously powerful left-handed hitter; I did not know he felt he was feeling the strain of being the first black superstar to wear pinstripes. I had no concept that elections could swing one way or the other based on how a person stood on issues that pertained to the needs of a community of people with different color skin. I was clueless, as a six-year-old probably should be. We grow up soon enough.

Their is bliss in ignorance, for sure, and I probably could have gone my whole life just remembering 1977 as the Year of Reggie, but I am so glad I read this book, as Reggie is now in context for me.

I love when things are in context.

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