The Chicken Days

This series makes me nervous, even thought it might determine nothing more than which team wins the AL East. Yes, the games will be hyped too much, but there’s no substitute for the damage head-to-head games can do.

In 1978, the Red Sox burst out of the gate and ran away with the division (sort of). At one point, they led by 14 games. The Yankees, riding Ron Guidry’s 25-3 year, came into Fenway for four games in early September. The Sox had lost ground, so there was some worry, but no one expected the Boston Massacre. The Yankees didn’t just sweep. They dry-vac’d.

The lowlight of that series was a grand slam hit by Fred “Chicken” Stanley, one of a legion of players remembered in Boston and virtually nowhere else. It hit just to the right of the yellow line in left-center that marks a bend in the wall. In other words, to the left of the line is ordinary wall; to the right of it (Let’s not wonder what “on it” means) is home run territory. Any ball hitting this spot is a legitimate home run (most parks, funny thing, don’t have giant green walls in their outfields), but it didn’t look like a home run. Move that ball 12 inches left, and it’s a double. The ball even bounced back on to the field, to frolic in the grass and mock a silent crowd.

Stanley, like his teammate Bucky Dent, was not known as a home run hitter. Dent, though, was a good and sometimes great player, a quintessential Yankee who (damn it) seemed like a good guy and was a good sport about the endless invective that greeted him in this town. His locker was eventually labeled B.F. Dent. (Did you know visiting teams got name plates? I didn’t.) The F, of course, stands for Bleeping. In later years Dent even identified himself that way when he called Dan Shaughnessy. I’ll bet Fred Stanley never calls himself Chicken.

Recent history of this series hasn’t been much better. In 2006, a rainout made a four-game series into a five-game series, and the Sox dropped all five. That series was crucial, because two of the games were close, and the Sox could have dropped one game in the standings instead of five. Again, the head-to-head matchup doing direct damage.

A ha, you say, but the Sox own the Yankees this year. Yeah, sure. You keep thinking that.

I’m still nervous about Yankee games in August. Baseball is the best.