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Graig Nettles   ('77 World Series NY Yankee) Graig Nettles ('77 World Series NY Yankee)

'The Bronx Is Burning'

ESPN Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Genius Products, LLC, brings the highly anticipated screen adaptation of Jonathan Mahler’s bestseller about the New York Yankees’ unforgettable 1977 summer to DVD.

Backlit by a city in turmoil, 'The Bronx is Burning' is a historic eight-part dramatic series that takes Yankee fans to a time in history when their favorite team was on the brink of destruction and the world championship!

“This highly touted DVD captures the re-emergence of the New York Yankees while highlighting a summer filled with political duress, a citywide blackout and a serial killer on the loose,” said Trevor Drinkwater, president and CEO of Genius Products. “The Bronx is Burning is truly the ultimate experience for fans looking to relive the unforgettable summer of 1977.”

Starring in this dramatic series as volatile coach Billy Martin is John Turturro (Golden Globe nominee - Quiz Show, and The Good Shepherd); Oliver Platt (Emmy and Golden Globe nominee - Huff, and Kinsey) as demanding Yankee owner George Steinbrenner; and as the enigmatic superstar Reggie Jackson, Daniel Sunjata (The Devil Wears Prada and “Rescue Me”).

Taking some time out recently with original defensive third basemen and member of the 1977/78 New York Yankees World Series winners, Graig Nettles, I first wondered what his first set of memories had been stirred up from having already watched the new film, 'The Bronx Is Burning'?

Graig Nettles "We tried to insulate ourselves so those problems that were going on in the city and around us didn't get to us. It was kinda nice to be enclosed in a stadium there while the rest of the world was outside. But we were still aware of what was going on around us. But for us - and a lot of the fans - baseball was a way to get away from your problems. So, in that aspect I think we had a soothing effect on the city 'cause then people could come out and scream at us!"

At that time in 1977 during Game 6, with the team on the brink of destruction AND the world championship, just what was the atmosphere like in the dressing room? Did this Son of Sam business affect any of the players? "Yeah, when a guy goes around killing people I'm sure we must have talked about it in the club house. It was in a different area of the city where he was. I think he was out in Queens and we were living in New Jersey. So, we didn't really fear him that much, but you never did know where a guy like that's gonna be and what part of town though. I just remember that a lot of us were relieved though once he did get caught. It was a bad thing going on in the city at the time."

In this new film ‘The Bronx Is Burning’ you are played by actor Alex Cranmer. Have you seen the film and what did you think of his performance? "I thought he did a good job. He didn't have a whole lot to say in the movie, but the few things he said and the way he acted around the locker room, he looked like the way I acted. So I think he did a good job."

On an excitement level, just what was the atmosphere like in that club house back on Game 6 night (October 18, 1977) at Yankee Stadium? "Well, when you get to that last deciding game when one game can do it you want to put them away as quickly as possible. So we said, 'Let's do it today. Let's not wait and go a seventh game.' 'Cause that would have been very nerve-racking to go into a seventh game. But no, we just went about and did our job like it was another game. But it was a very important game and we were bearing down really hard to finish that night."

So to then watch Reggie Jackson's three home runs in that Game 6 beat a record that Babe Ruth had set on two occasions must have been something! "Yeah, we were happy. We were happy for Reggie, we were happy for the Yankees, we were happy for ourselves ... 'cause we had gotten beaten the year before in the World Series and so we wanted to show people we could come back and win a World Series. So that was a sense of relief more than anything else."

Is it true that you were nicknamed ‘Puff’ in your playing days because you used to disappear like a 'puff of smoke' each time after playing a practical joke or starting trouble with a fellow team mate!? "It was actually like I'd disappear like a 'poof' of smoke. So it went from 'poof' to 'puff,' but it wasn't necessarily practical jokes. It was just any time I wanted to get away from something I would just leave rather than telling everybody goodbye!"

It’s been claimed that you were one of the best defensive third basemen of all time! Do you agree?! "People have told me that throughout the years so I have to believe what the people tell me," he gently laughs.

Being that you were part of four (4) pennant-winning Yankee teams, what one memory can you refer back to as being the true highlight of your personal Yankee career? "Well, in that respect it would be the '78 series Game 3 where I had a real good game defensively. I helped take away a lot of Dodger runs that game. So, on a personal note that was probably my highlight of the four pennants."

OK, it's now time to finally fess up ... back in September of '74 what was really going on with you using that bat that had six 'superballs' inside it?! Was it truly handed to you by a Yankees fan in Chicago and you honestly didn't know the bat had been altered?! "Yeah, the end of the bat came off - where the guy had sawn it off and stuffed some superballs in - which I didn't even know about. But the ball hit right on the end of the bat and the end of the bat came off. It's a myth that the superballs were bouncing all over the field, because that never happened. But yes, they were in the bat."

Please explain what a 'Superball' is? "It's just a hard little ball about the size of a big marble and it's made out of hard rubber. And when you bounce them they bounce almost as high as the last bounce."

And how would these Superballs have benefitted you INSIDE your wooden bat?! "I don't know. The guy who explained it to me at a later date said he thought that when the bat would compress the superballs would make it springier. I really don’t think that it would have mattered."

How many games did you use it before it broke? "I only used it for two at bat so I didn't really use it long enough to see if it would help," he laughs gently once more. "The first at bat I hit a home run and then the second at bat the end of the bat came right off!"

Wow, straight from the off that bat really DID work for you then! "It would have been a home run with any bat though. I hit it really well. But it would have been interesting to see if that bat would have done any good for me if I had used it for more than two at bat."

Was it a legal bat? "No, it was illegal."

So, did they take that home run away from you then?! "No, they didn't."

QUOTE: 'When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join the circus. With the Yankees I have accomplished both!' Please explain! "Oh, in the 1978 season the Yankees fired Billy Martin as manager and then a week later they re-hired him to manage the next year’s team. So I thought this whole thing was turning into a real circus here, which is where I came up with that quote."

And how are you still involved with the Yankees today? "It's during Spring Training. We go down for six weeks as coaches. Myself, Mickey Rivers, Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Tommy John, and 'Yogi' Barra all go down. It's a nice thing the Yankees do to bring back some of the old-timers to mingle in with the young players."

Finally, your Major League bow out came for the Montreal Expos on October 1, 1988, but what are your memories of that final day? "I couldn't even tell you what my final game was! I was mostly just doing pinch hitting then. I'm sure I made an out. I didn't hit too well that year so I'm sure my last at bat was an out. I would remember if it was a hit, but I don't recall what I did."

Did you know then that it was to be your last game in the Major Leagues? "No, I didn't know that it was going to be my last day. I mean, over the winter before the next season I tried to catch on with other teams, but at that time I was 44 years-old ... and they didn't need any 44 year-old third basemen!"

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk

'The Bronx Is Burning' DVD Purchase Link

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