NEW YORK — Picked-up pieces while waiting for Celtics-Nets games in Brooklyn …
▪ Are the Red Sox just unlucky when it comes to COVID-19, or are they paying the price for being MLB’s anti-vax poster boys?
We all remember the problems last year. The Sox never got to the 85 percent threshold that MLB required to allow fewer restrictions for players on the road and in the workplace. While all Sox employees were required to be vaccinated, players were exempt (thank you, players union).
The Sox were the only one of 10 playoff teams that did not reach 85 percent. In September, a dozen Red Sox players and staff got COVID. Chris Sale and first base coach Tom Goodwin made it known they were not vaccinated, and we subsequently learned that Xander Bogaerts, Christian Arroyo, Josh Taylor, and Kevin Plawecki were unvaccinated.
Bogaerts, Arroyo, and Plawecki informed us this spring that they’d gotten the shots, but the Sox had another surge this past week (catchers Plawecki and Christian Vázquez — both vaccinated — came down with COVID) and had to recall Connor Wong to be an emergency catcher for Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays. Manager Alex Cora tested positive Thursday and did not accompany his team to Tampa for the weekend. Infielder Jonathan Araúz has COVID, too.
The Sox front office has been respectful (some would say fearful) about players’ privacy, but the “Who is and who isn’t?” parlor game ends this coming week when the team goes to Toronto, where a national mandate bars any unvaccinated player.
Say hello to Tanner “Kyrie” Houck, a 25-year-old righthanded pitcher who told us last weekend that he is not vaccinated and therefore will miss his scheduled start against the Jays on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a personal choice for everyone whether they get it or not,” Houck said. “I’m definitely bummed that I won’t be able to make that start.”
Wow. Bummer, man.
Kyrie Houck went on to say, “But the starts I am able to make, I plan on giving 100 percent for this team. Anything I can do for this team to help them win, I’ll do it.”
If you really feel that way, just get the shot, big fella. You are a professional athlete. You are part of a team. Maybe this would be a time to forgo your “personal freedom” and do what’s good for the team and everyone around you.
Houck is not alone, of course. Cora told us last weekend that “there are others.” Now we’ll find out who they are.
Cora seemed to be calling out his own players when he said, “It’s what we do as an individual to take care of not only you, but your family, the group [teammates], and the organization.”
Hear that, fellows? It’s not only you. Ever heard of communal responsibility?
When the series in Toronto is over, the Red Sox will take a bus to Buffalo, then fly to Baltimore. Why? Because crossing the Canadian border into the United States by land doesn’t require a negative COVID-19 test. It’s an annoyance the Sox are willing to endure so they won’t have to leave behind anyone who tests positive in Canada.
Sale, who makes $30 million this year and has won 11 games since signing his five-year, $145 million extension in 2019, told us in Fort Myers that he’s still not vaccinated. He’s currently on the injured list (broken rib), so we won’t know if he’s willing to take a shot for the team until the Sox visit Toronto again later this summer.
Meanwhile, the hated Yankees have announced that all of their players will be available when they travel to Toronto May 2.
The Houck/Red Sox situation is outrageous. And unacceptable. And there’s a good chance that it’s going to start costing them games.
This is no longer strictly a medical or personal-freedom issue. It’s a baseball question. It’s a competition question. As in “Do Your Job.”
The Red Sox and Jays finished one game apart last season. Toronto is favored to win the AL East this year. And now the Sox could play 10 games shorthanded against a major rival because some players have put their personal freedom ahead of the team.
A lot of Sox fans probably had to get vaccinated to keep their jobs. Are any of you — those paying big bucks to support this team — bothered by players like Houck?
▪ Quiz: Name the only three NBA players who won three consecutive league MVP awards (answer below).
▪ It’s been a third-rail issue since the hypersensitive Red Sox ham-handedly fired Don Orsillo in 2015, so here goes …
1. Orsillo should have taken the day off and come to Boston when the Red Sox invited him to be part of honoring Jerry Remy last Wednesday night at Fenway.
2. In Orsillo’s absence, the Sox should have broken their “rules” and presented Orsillo’s video tribute as part of the ceremony.
3. Orsillo, whom we love, was out of bounds tweeting about the snub on the night of Remy’s tribute. It made the story about Orsillo instead of the late Remy.
▪ The folks who made the entertaining, factually loose, and controversial “Winning Time” for HBO (Jerry West’s lawyers have demanded a retraction) approached me months ago with an offer to make a cameo appearance in the series.
I was offered the tiny part of a 1979-80 Garden usher whose job was to present a “gift” to Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss (played wonderfully by John C. Reilly) in the upper deck of the Old Garden before a Celtics-Lakers game. When Buss opens the gift and discovers a tomato, my line was, “A vegetable. Like your coach!” (A wildly distasteful reference to Lakers coach Jack McKinney, who was nearly killed in a bicycle accident early in the 1979-80 season.)
I said, “No thanks,” explained that the scene was fictitious and horrendous, and recommended they strike it from the show. Sadly, it aired last Sunday exactly as it was described when they pitched it.
If you want to read a stunning takedown of “Winning Time,’’ check out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Substack blog. The top scorer in NBA history and a six-time MVP, Abdul-Jabbar at 75 is now one of the best columnists in America.
▪ Continuing the Foxborough Farce, Bill Parcells did not make the final ballot for the Patriots Hall of Fame this year. Fans can vote for Mike Vrabel, Vince Wilfork, or Logan Mankins. Swell. We all know Mankins — like Patriots Hall of Famer Matt Light — is a far greater figure in franchise history than Parcells. The Krafts can fix this, but they won’t.
▪ J.J. Redick tried to diminish Bob Cousy’s greatness by saying that the Cooz was guarded by “plumbers and firemen.” Wonder what Oscar Robertson and Jerry West think about that? Redick needs to apologize. Then do some research. Would like to have seen Redick take it to the basket against Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or Nate Thurmond.
▪ Wyc Grousbeck has been a good Celtics owner, but he might want to dial it down while sitting in the front row during these playoff games. After an airball free throw by Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton Wednesday, Grousbeck stood, turned to the crowd, and led an “airball” chant. Weak.
▪ Speaking of weak, Steve Nash is coaching the way Butch Hobson managed the Red Sox. Nash called a timeout Wednesday with his team trailing, 114-105, and 22.8 seconds left in the game.
▪ Here’s Ferguson Jenkins’s tweet after Clayton Kershaw was pulled from a perfect game after seven innings: “Not even if I had a broken arm and had to roll the ball over the plate am i leaving a perfect game in the 7th.”
▪ The Los Angeles Times did great work celebrating the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s big league debut. Included in the coverage was an interview with 95-year-old Carl Erskine, who was Robinson’s Dodger teammate for nine seasons.
▪ Early reports out of Cleveland are that longtime fans of the local baseball team are not embracing the team’s new name: “Guardians.” They were “Indians” for 107 years and it’s evident thus far that Tribe/Chief Wahoo garb is still the wardrobe of choice for many Cleveland baseball fans.
▪ The world is a better place when the Mets are competitive.
▪ Kevin Youkilis is really good on NESN.
▪ Herschel Walker’s “candidacy” for a Georgia Senate seat is the best example of real-world decision-making clouded by jock worship since sycophants in Rhode Island gave Curt Schilling almost all of their “small loan” monies for Schill’s blundering “38 Studios” startup.
▪ Which will be the first major American professional sports venue to sell naming rights to bathrooms? It’s already happening at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles (“Lefton Family Restrooms,” according to Los Angeles Times scribe Nicholas Goldberg) and I’m wondering whether Fenway Sports Group or Bob Kraft will seize this untapped revenue stream.
▪ The Wall Street Journal reports that Rams Super Bowl-winning quarterback Matthew Stafford recently bought a couple of ranch-style homes from hip-hop star Drake for $11 million.
▪ Grant Williams and Daniel Theis spend way too much time complaining to officials.
▪ RIP Jim Waugh, former teacher and coach at Groton School and Lawrenceville School, who died last Monday at the age of 95. Waugh was the father of PGA CEO Seth Waugh, who presided over the Deutsche Bank Classic at TPC Norton for many years.
Waugh also is the only man who taught and coached both Peter Gammons (Groton) and Bob Ryan (Lawrenceville) in the 1960s.
Waugh was player-manager of the champion Groton Town Baseball team in the 1950s and hosted Monday night card games with fellow World War II veterans. A life well-lived.
▪ Quiz answer: Bill Russell, 1961-63; Wilt Chamberlain, 1966-68; Larry Bird, 1984-86.