If there's a villain in "The Bronx is Burning," the terrific book about New York City in 1977, it is Reggie Jackson. Well, urban decay is a bigger villain, but it's easier to capture the million-dollar prize bought by Reggie Jackson and thrown into an unstable relationship with the insecure and alcoholic Billy Martin. Jackson is portrayed as brash, egomaniacal and quick to make enemies on the team quickly, while Martin becomes a sympathetic figure as he tries to deal with Jackson, Steinbrenner and the pressure to win the pennant.
Jackson clearly doesn't like the way that sits, and he spent some time in an interview to accompany MSG's broadcast of the miniseries made from the book, which makes his villainy more of a focal point, trying to score some points off Martin. He accused the late manager of making anti-Semitic jokes about Yankees pitcher Ken Holtzman, who was Jewish, in 1978.
Fran Healy, also a member of that team, was interviewing Jackson and asked if he felt that Martin's use of Holtzman was influenced by his religion.
"That's a terrific question,'' Jackson said. "That's a question I thought about a lot."
One never knows the evil that lurks in the heart of men, especially ones that have been dead for 20 years, but there are plenty of good reasons why a manager wouldn't use Holtzman much. He had his moments in the early 70's, but by the time Holtzman came to the Yankees in 1976 he didn't have much left in the tank. He made 18 appearances in 1977 and posted a 5.78 ERA, which isn't much of an argument for increased playing time.
That aside, you wonder why Jackson feels like he needs to take shots at Martin at this point. It's artless, because Reggie already won. He's the bona fide Yankee legend who time has turned into one of the team's elder statesman, with the negative stuff ignored in the face of two World Series titles and the legendary three home runs in Game Six of the '77 Series. Martin, on the other hand, became a joke in the 80's as he and Steinbrenner played their little game of hirings and firings while drinking himself into fights with players and, ultimately, death.
It's time to let sleeping dogs lie, even if the dog in question was an anti-Semite.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.