Tuesday, February 19, 2013
'Fisk' is one letter away from 'fist'
Two recent, unrelated events conspired to remind me that I have not added anyone to the "I'm Badass and You're Not" Club for a long time.
The first one was the realization that it is Dave Stewart's birthday. The famed "death-stare" pitcher for the A's and Blue Jays, who started out with the Dodgers, was as bad-ass as they come on the mound and already a worthy member of the Badass Club.
The second one was receiving a pair of cards from AdamE of Thoughts and Sox.
They are both going to my goal of completing the 2001 Upper Deck Decade '70s set, and each card features the same player:
It's my catching hero from when I was a kid, Carlton Fisk.
Fisk was legend in New England. New England-born and bred, he was the Olde Towne Team through and through, or at least that's how Red Sox fans looked at him.
And even if you didn't grow up in New England, if you grew up in a family of Red Sox fans -- and Yankee haters -- then you were a fan of Fisk.
Catcher was such a high-profile position in the 1970s, and I felt required to pick a catcher as a favorite. As a Dodger fan I couldn't pick Johnny Bench. He was a member of the Big Red Machine, despised by Dodger fans and an attention-hog, appearing on my TV all the time. And as a Dodger fan I couldn't pick Thurman Munson. He was a Yankee. He falsely tagged out Steve Garvey on a play at the plate in extra innings of Game 1 of the World Series, and got away with it.
And the Dodgers didn't exactly have a catcher -- not with easy-out Steve Yeager disgracing the eighth spot in the batting order three times a game.
So I picked Fisk.
Not only was Fisk the anti-Bench and the anti-Munson, but he had tremendous cards.
My first experience with a Fisk card was his 1975 Topps card. I would become very familiar with Fisk's grim, determined look. It appears as if he's defending an entire office complex from whatever horror lurks off camera. Fisk is going to do it -- while choking up on the bat -- all by himself.
After 1975 came the 1976 card that you saw at the top of the post. It appears on that card as if Fisk is riding on an unseen horse, leading his team into battle (and, yes, I hate the sports-as-war reference, but that's the image I get from this card).
Then there was 1977. An epic card that I have already addressed. It symbolized everything to us. Red Sox vs. Yankees. Us vs. Them. Good vs. Evil. Hope vs. Despair. Dignity vs. We Take Cash. All of it. That was a lot to absorb for a bunch of kids, but it was all there on this card, even if we didn't know what it all meant.
This card came out after the great Yankees-Red Sox brawl of 1976, which went down into folklore thanks to Bill Lee's injury suffered in the brawl and this Sports Illustrated cover:
After Lou Piniella went charging into home plate feet first and high, both Piniella and Fisk came up swinging. The fists were flying, and the rivalry was born.
Fisk was an instant hero to us. A player who wouldn't take any crap. Little did we know that Fisk had been doing that for five years already. There was a big rivalry between Munson and Fisk. Munson didn't like Fisk -- Fisk was tall, handsome and seemed born to lead. Munson was dumpy, sullen and didn't seem to like making friends.
But whatever challenge the Yankees threw at Fisk, he was ready for it. He almost seemed unbeatable. You could not destroy him. He was a terminator in a catcher's mask and chest protector.
His cards added to that feeling:
Grim. Determined. Purposeful. A man you looked to for direction.
What a coveted card this was. Even though we looked at Bench as Mr. TV, Fisk would make his way to the small screen and in magazine advertisements hawking smokeless tobacco. It would follow logically that he'd appear on his cards with a mouth full of chaw.
There's some more.
The overstuffed cheek added to his demeanor, his "surveying-the-troops" look. It was all very, badass.
Fisk didn't smile a ton on his cards but he did smile. You just wondered what he was thinking when he was smiling.
"You snap one more photo of me and I'm going to make you part of the wall."
Fisk was legendary for his battles. He battled Frank Robinson. He battled Deion Sanders. He battled the Yankees. He battled both of his own teams, the Red Sox and then the White Sox.
A co-worker of mine remembers when Fisk rejected his autograph request rather brusquely. Fisk even battled the fans.
Fisk is remembered for a lot of things: waving the ball fair in Game 6 of the World Series, catching more games than anyone before Pudge, Part II came along, being a Hall of Famer. He was No. 27 for the Red Sox and No. 72 for the White Sox. He's also a Cardboard Appreciation Hall of Famer.
I remember him mostly for being the catching hero of my youth and for being his own man.
Take it or leave it. Agree or disagree. He was his own man.
That, to me, is badass.
Welcome to the club.