The Ultimate Sports Collectible, Part 1: Yankee Stadium, 1977
[Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of entries from veteran broadcaster Marshall Hook, who is almost finished a journey that has taken him 35 years, to visit every stadium in Major League Baseball at least once. Two weeks ago, he described what this series will be all about, in an article called "The Ultimate Sports Collectible: The Baseball Stadium".]
The summer of 1977 was, in New York, simply crazy. There was a mayoral election that involved some big personalities: the incumbent Abraham Beame, the eventual winner Ed Koch, future governor Mario Cuomo, and the wonderfully-named Bella Abzug who was a former U.S. Representative and feminist activist. This wild and woolly campaign was taking place with a backdrop of a city in deep financial crisis.
That crisis didn’t help when, almost exactly 35 years ago, the city was plunged into darkness – literal and figurative – by a power outage lasting over 24 hours. That lack of power combined with fewer police on the streets and the blazing hot temperatures of a prolonged heat wave to create the perfect environment for rioting and looting. The Crown Heights and Bushwick neighborhoods of Brooklyn were particularly hard hit. Many believe that the blackout and ensuing violence cost Beame reelection as Mayor.
But wait! We’re not done yet. There was this fella named David Berkowitz who, to hear him tell it, was following the orders of neighbor’s dog and going around killing people in New York. He was about a month away from being caught having started his spree the summer before. People were, simply put, a bit nervous about the self-dubbed “Son of Sam.”
Reggie Jackson, meanwhile, was in his first season as a New York Yankee having signed a five-year almost $3 million-dollar deal in the off-season. While that seems like a trivial amount these days (the current Major League minimum salary is $480,000 is just under what Reggie was earning a year), it was a big deal both in actual value and newsworthiness in 1977. He and manager Billy Martin did not get along well and Jackson, who may or may not (depending on who you believe) declared himself “the straw that stirs the drink”, didn’t always see eye-to-eye with his teammates.
And all of this: the politicians, the looters, and the Yankees were splashed across the pages of the tabloid newspaper. Again, that may not sound like much but “the tabloid” was the previously venerable New York Post that had, the year before, been purchased by Rupert Murdoch and he was busy publishing bigger and bigger headlines with bigger and bigger pictures and, as most seemed to agree, less and less news.
This miasma of turmoil was covered in Jonathan Mahler’s mostly compelling book [amazon_link id="B001HZAZQ6" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Ladies and Gentleman, The Bronx is Burning[/amazon_link] - the titular quote coming from none other than Howard Cosell during a Yankees broadcast. It was later made into mostly non-compelling ESPN made-for-television production that ignored all but the Yankees.
[Note: The link above to the Mahler book is an affiliate link. It means that Amazon will buy Dadditudes - and Marshall Hook - a very small cup of coffee if you click it and decide to buy the book. If you don't think we deserve the coffee, don't click the link.]