EARLY IN the The Bronx Is Burning—the new ESPN miniseries about the 1977 Yankees based on Jonathan Mahler's book Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning—George Steinbrenner (played by Oliver Platt) tries to put some spin on his strained relations with manager Billy Martin (John Turturro). Moving his hand in a horizontal line, Steinbrenner tells reporters, "Any relationship, if it goes like this all of the time, that's no fun." Then he jags his hand up and down and says, "It's gotta go like this."
That may be a workable premise for a sitcom—mismatched type A personalities who love to butt heads (call it Who's the Boss?)—but it's hardly enough to sustain an eight-hour production. As Mahler's 2005 book showed, there was plenty going on in New York in '77: Son of Sam, a hotly contested mayoral race, a blackout ... and then there were the Yankees. Steinbrenner, a cocky fifth-year owner who was coming off an embarrassing World Series loss, had a pricey new toy: free-agent outfielder Reggie Jackson, whose huge ego matched his huge talent and who clashed with Martin, a brilliant manager with demons.
Mahler wove those elements into a story that captured the drama of that summer in the city. But ESPN merely speckles Burning with snippets of history while keeping the focus on the team. That might work—if the actors brought brio to the clubhouse battle. Instead, they play the familiar characters as caricatures. Platt (below) hams up Steinbrenner's vanity, setting down his phone mid-call to pat and preen his hair. And as Reggie Jackson, Daniel Sunjata mostly wears a ridiculous Afro wig and shows off his abs.
Only the outstanding Turturro displays any depth, capturing Martin's devilish nature. In one scene Platt asks him to play a speech he's recorded for the team. Turturro demurs—in such a subtly fiendish way that it's clear he has the upper hand on the boss. Come Emmy time, Turturro may get rewarded for doing what MVPs do best: carrying an otherwise bad team.
July 1, 2007
IT WASN'T exactly Bjorn Borg shrieking at the sky after winning Wimbledon, but there was a certain drama to Russ Yagoda's celebration at the Brooklyn tavern Barcade last Saturday. The 23-year-old advertising account executive fell to his knees on a patch of AstroTurf, exultant at having won the first Wiimbledon championship. That's no typo—Yagoda was competing in Wii Tennis, which is played on the popular Nintendo video-game console with motion sensor controllers that players swing like a real racket. Wii Tennis, said one Wiimbledon watcher, "brings out the jock in the geek and the geek in the jock."
Wiimbledon was the brainchild of New York City Wii enthusiasts Lane Buschel and Steve Bryant. Around 600 people volunteered to play, but space constraints limited the field to 128 players—many of whom showed up in costumes (there was a Harry Potter lookalike and a couple Super Mario Bros. characters). "I feel like a champion," said Yagoda (right), who won a Wii console. "Somebody asked me if I'd rather win Wiimbledon or Wimbledon. I said, 'What's Wimbledon?'"