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Peacock’s Bronx Zoo ’90: Crime, Chaos and Baseball brings back the nightmare 1990 season by the New York Yankees

By: Valerie Milano

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/19/2024 – If you are a baseball fan in general, and a New York Yankees fan in particular, you know all the numbers:

  • 27 World Series titles.
  • 40 American League Championships.
  • 61 players, managers and team executives in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
1990 Don Mattingly (Photo: Steve Crandall/GettyImages)

Truly, the New York Yankees are baseball’s royalty.

But in 1990, the Yankees were coming off a fifth-place finish and were hoping to right their ship with guys like Dave Winfield, Pascual Perez, and Don Mattingly. And what happened during the 1990 season to this storied franchise is enough to make even the most die-hard of Yankees fans curl up in a fetal position and cry.

And it is the subject of Peacock-TV’s three-part series, The Bronx Zoo 90: Crime, Chaos, and Baseball from documentary filmmaker D.J. Caruso.

Based on a series of articles from New York Post columnist Joel Sherman, Bronx Zoo 90 finds the New York Yankees at a crossroads, as it stumbled and bumbled their way to one of their worst seasons. Ever.

What was even more forgettable for Yankees fans was what happened off the field. For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap:

  • Owner George Steinbrenner was embroiled in a feud that saw Winfield traded to the California Angeles for pitcher Mike Witt on May 11.
  • Steinbrenner was later banned for life from baseball by Commissioner Fay Vincent after he paid Howard Spira, a small-time gambler, $40,000 for “dirt” after Dave Winfield sued him for failing to pay his foundation the $300,000 guaranteed in his contract
  • On May 11, after a disastrous start, Steinbrenner fired manager Bucky Dent while the team was in Boston, the site of Dent’s famous home run to beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS.
  • Outfielder Mel Hall was arrested for having a 15-year-old girlfriend.

What was happening on the field was not any better. Yankees pitcher Andy Hawkins threw a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox but lost the game 4-0. Perez ended up on the injured list after three starts with an injury suffered in spring training because Steinbrenner had ordered him to pitch without warmup after reporting late top String Training. Mattingly also spent quite a bit of time on the IR.

The team was in a shambles.

Millennials grew up during a time when baseball reigned supreme, and one of the major baseball dynasties they experienced was that of the New York Yankees.

Caruso said the idea of making this documentary came to him after reading Sherman’s articles in the Post, and that kicked off a two-and-a-half-year journey from ideation to its recent premiere on Peacock.

“It involved a lot of research,” Caruso said of the process during an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Times. “It doesn’t seem like it’s that long ago, but it’s long enough that you have to find footage, you have to find interviews, you have to see who has gone where. There was an extensive research team that was fantastic.

Click below to see our exclusive interview:

“And once we got to see all the ancillary tangents and all the people we could pull in, then deciding who to go interview, what is the best interview. You start with a thesis and that thesis evolves.”

The late Billy Martin celebrates a ’70s postseason win in a graphic from Bronx Zoo ’90. Should you raise a glass to Peacock’s three-part docuseries? (Peacock)

What has evolved here is a fascinating look at a professional sports franchise in total and complete disarray, and like a car crash, it is as hard to turn away from watching today as it was some 24 years ago as it unfolded on the sports page.

Making this documentary was not without its expected challenges. Many of the people involved in the 1990 season were either reticent to speak on camera, or were deceased, including Steinbrenner who died in 2019. And the Yankees themselves were not all that eager to talk about that historically bad season.

“We had to fight a little bit, because the Yankees are such a giant sports conglomerate,” Caruso said. “The Yankees are a gigantic global brank that own their own network and sort of make their own TV series and do their own specials and stuff. And if you go to the YES Network, you’re not going to find anything on the 1990 Yankees.”

Needless to say, the team was not “excited” about this documentary being made, Caruso said.  But he added that there was a certain amount of cooperation because of host the film series was portrayed.

“They understood that this documentary series had an approach of, because things were so dark and so bad, it opened the door for certain things to happen so that the Yankees dynasty not only came back, but it also came back stronger in ’96 and winning four of the next five World Series championships, because of what happened in 1990,” he said.

Produced by Believe Entertainment Group, New York Post Entertainment and Whitecap Entertainment, the series which premiered May 16, exclusively on Peacock.

The docuseries features interviews with former Yankees players including Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Dave LaPoint, Kevin Maas, Jim Leyritz, Jesse Barfield, as well as former Yankees manager Buck Showalter, Yankees’ announcer Michael Kay. Current Yankees GM Brian Cashman and key sports journalists Joel Sherman, Suzy Waldman and Len Berman are also interviewed, as well Spira, the gambler who was at the center of Vincent’s investigation and ultimate suspension of Steinbrenner.

And in his first interview since his conviction for statutory rape, Mel Hall is interviewed from prison, where he is serving out a 40-year sentence. His victim, Chastity Easterly, also speaks for the first time on camera about her experience with Hall.

Caruso also is an executive producer of the film, along with Dan Goodman, Brian Hunt, William H. Masterson III, Warren Cohen, and Troy Searer. Believe Entertainment Group, New York Post Entertainment & Whitecap Entertainment are the docuseries’ producers.

The 1990 New York Yankees not only was one of the worst years in Yankees history, but one of the most controversial with all kinds of problems with players, management, and beyond. Now that title makes sense! Based on a series of articles from New York Post columnist Joel Sherman, this docu-series covers team owner George Steinbrenner’s removal from baseball for trying to buy info on Dave Winfield, and every other mishap and incident. Series interviews include Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Dave LaPoint, Kevin Maas, Jim Leyritz, Jesse Barfield, former Yankees manager Buck Showalter, Yankees’ announcer Michael Kay, Brian Cashman, and Bernie Williams, and more. This looks like a must watch for Yankees fans and/or any sports history maniac.