Oliver Mannion and I have been watching The Bronx is Burning, the ESPN adaptation of Jonathan Mahler's book telling the story of the New York Yankees’ tumultuous championship season of 1977 set against the background of New York City collapsing every which way. Oliver’s getting a kick out of it because he knows the baseball history from just having watched Ken Burns’ Baseball and because, thanks to a fifth grade history project, he’s something of an expert on the 1970s.
The series takes a sort of John Dos Passos’ USA approach to telling its story. It intersperses scenes of the Reggie Jackson-Billy Martin-George Steinbrenner clubhouse psychodrama with real television news clips of reports on the blackout, the hunt for Son of Sam, the heat wave, the city’s economic meltdown, the FALN terrorist bombings, and the mayoral race. One of the clips shows quick shots of the candidates running against Mayor Abe Beam and as one of them flashes by we hear a reporter say that this particular candidate is a relative unknown in city politics. Polls show that only 6 percent of New Yorkers know who he is.
Oliver laughed at the guy’s poor showing and asked me if I’d ever heard of him and if he ever amounted to much in politics.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, “He had some success.”