Keeping Score: Beware the mid-summer malaise

Friday, July 13, 2018

Good morning!

The Red Sox are a well-oiled machine that at this writing had won 10 straight games and led the Yankees by 3½ games in the AL East. John Henry’s business model is moving along swimmingly, but don’t order your World Series tickets just yet.

This Friday will be the 40th anniversary of when the Red Sox led the Yankees by 14 games. It was Boston’s high water mark and the point from which the team tumbled downward, but not before the pressure got to Billy Martin. The volatile Yankee skipper hated Reggie Jackson’s arrogant attitude and resented George Steinbrenner’s meddling.

At O’Hare Airport on July 23, he strolled up to New York Times beat writer Murray Chass and said, “The two of them deserve each other, one’s a born liar and the other’s convicted.”

Martin was referring to Jackson’s character flaws and Steinbrenner’s guilty plea for tax evasion and obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal. He was fired and replaced by Bob Lemon, and the Yankees began a comeback that hit full stride in September when they beat the Red Sox six times in nine games, including four straight during the infamous Boston Massacre on Labor Day weekend.

We all know what happened next. The Yankees prevailed in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park, blew past Whitey Herzog’s Kansas City Royals and beat the Dodgers in six games. Afterward Jackson said the Red Sox would also have beaten the Dodgers, which made it hurt even more for long-suffering Boston fans.

The Red Sox are beginning to distance themselves from the Yankees. Their final four games before the All Star break are against the downtrodden Blue Jays at Fenway Park, while the Yankees have four against the first-place Indians in Cleveland.

Yes it’s conceivable Boston could be up by five or six games at the break, but the ghosts of yesteryear could be conspiring to reprise the season of ’78.

Saratoga’s idyllic 6½-week thoroughbred meet begins on Friday. Three years ago at the Old Spa, railbirds stepped to the window to pay the customary three-dollar admission fee.

“Five bucks,” said the clerk.

This year they’ll step to the window, slap over the five-spot and be told, “Seven bucks,”

What a surprise, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) is cashing in on the grand track’s historic allure. Pity the poor ticket clerks who’ll be taking endless wrath from jilted railbirds. New Yorkers from down-state aren’t known for turning the other cheek when they feel they’re being ripped off, and this is deja-screw all over again.

It’s a coy and disingenuous rip-off. NYRA’s website claims admission is $5*.

Notice the asterisk?

Scroll down and it says: *Single day admission is $7. Prices shown are for guests who purchase their ticket prior to the day of the event.

That doesn’t work for day-trippers who are driving from say, Franklin County. I called NYRA’s main number and was transferred to a box office employee who identified himself as Andrew.

He was polite and professional, and he offered an alternative. “You can buy in advance and we’ll mail you the tickets.”

“No service fee? No handling fee?” I asked. 

Nope, he said.

He charged my debit card $15 for three grandstand admission tickets and they arrived by priority mail. You can do the same. The number is 844-697-2849.

Saratoga does offer patrons the faint hope of an all-expense paid visit, but barring any luck at the windows another way to avoid coming home empty-handed is to go on giveaway days.

This year’s freebies — one each per paid admission — are Saratoga baseball caps on Sunday (July 22), umbrellas on August 6, blankets on August 20 and windbreakers on September 2.

MLB NOTES: Attrition has begun taking its toll. In New York, closer Aroldis Chapman is pitching through knee tendonitis, rookie second baseman Gleyber Torres is on the disabled list with a sore hip and catcher Gary Sanchez and pitcher Masahiro Tanaka are bothered by groin and hamstring injuries, respectively. Who knows when Jacoby Ellsbury will get back in the lineup, or if Brett Gardner (who turns 35 next month) can stay healthy. … In Boston, third baseman Rafael Devers (inflamed shoulder) and catcher Christian Vazquez (fractured finger) are both out, and Dustin Pedroia’s bad knee is keeping him limbo. … Aaron Boone made his biggest blunder to date as the Yankees’ manager on Monday when he left CC Sabathia in Monday’s game. The big southpaw had allowed five hits and two walks to the previous 10 batters and was facing Baltimore’s Danny Valencia. “He has a good history with Valencia,” said Boone. Not this time, Valencia roped a three-run home run and the Yankees lost, 5-4. … Former Yankee and Mets pitcher Al Leiter, now an analyst for the MLB Network, on Ken Giles’ mound tantrum swearing at Astros manager A.J. Hinch: “It sounds kinda petty, but managers make a big fuss with a pitching staff as to how you’re supposed to give ‘em the ball and exactly what the transaction’s supposed to look like because the last thing they want do is to be shown up.” … As a tribute to John Sterling on his 80th birthday, YES announcer Michael Kay did one of Sterling’s patented “It is high, it is far, it is gone!” home run calls. … No surprise that the secondary market is going crazy for Monday’s home run derby at Nationals Park. Upper deck seats are selling for over $200 on StubHub and seats for Tuesday’s All-Star game are listing for between $500 and $1,000.

The world doesn’t revolve around Williams College, but try telling that to the school’s outstanding sports information director Dick Quinn: “Posting a story this week about former Williams baseball player Mark Scialabba who coached baseball for two years at Deerfield Academy and is now the Director of Player Development for the Washington Nationals.”

When the mailman handed me the latest issue of Sports Illustrated in the morning I expected to see Mookie Betts, Venus Williams or a World Cup soccer player on the cover, not Odell Beckham Jr. draped in jewelry and fur.

“Sports Style: The Fashionable 50” it proclaimed. The once great sports publication has become People Magazine for jocks.

Excuse me while I call to cancel my subscription.

SQUIBBERS: Over 4,000 people showed up every day for lacrosse camp at NMH last weekend. Speaking of NMH, the school is seeking a new athletic director after Kevin Klein stepped down. Klein arrived two years ago from the U.S. Naval Academy and replaced the popular Tom Pratt who’d served NMH for 21 years, the last 11 as AD. … Nice to see Terry and Vanna Ruggles buying sweet corn at Butynski’s Farm Stand. Ruggles was wearing his throwback Dartmouth baseball hat. When his son Scott didn’t have a team to pitch for, Ruggles started his own semi-pro team in Greenfield. Good for him. … The Twins swept the Birds four straight at home for the first time in their franchise history last weekend. In the series finale, Baltimore’s Chris Davis hit a ninth-inning home run that narrowed the gap to 10-1. Whoopee. … Single game seats for UMass football are on sale. The season starts Aug. 25 against Duquesne. …  Tim Tebow doubled in four at-bats at the Eastern League All Star game in Trenton on Wednesday. The 4-4 tie in nine innings was played before a crowd of 8,296 at Arm & Hammer Park which normally holds only 6,150. … Reacting to news she’d be ranked 51st in the world, new mother Serena Williams told AP: “Fifty-one, eh? It doesn’t have that same ring to it. The ‘1’ part does, but not the ‘5.’” … They snuck some ringers out of the barn at Suffolk Downs last weekend, among them were Floria Tosca ($133.20) and South Carolina ($72.40). … The U.S. men’s national soccer team isn’t in the World Cup because it lost to Trinidad and Tobago? Hard to believe. … Colombia won the World Cup diving competition, those guys should be in Hollywood … Toronto manager John Gibbons’ mother threw out the first pitch on her 80th birthday.  Gibbons might want to use her out of the bullpen.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.