Monday, January 26, 2009

Cardboard appreciation: 1977 Topps Carlton Fisk

(Usually the word "appreciate" appears in sentences with a happy ring to them. Except when it is preceded by the words "I would." As in, "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't leave your clothes lying on the floor," or "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't curse in front of my grandmother, or "I would appreciate it if you would put those cards away and have a conversation with me." ... Um, not that I've ever heard any of these sentences. Time for another edition of cardboard appreciation. This is the 15th in a series):

I'm in a bit of a ornery mood for some unknown reason. So I might as well feature a card that brings all of my childhood hatred for a certain team to the surface.

My brothers and I have despised the Yankees for a long time. I can't pinpoint the exact moment that this began, but I can relay my first recollection of disliking the Yankees. It came on May 2, 1976. That was the day that the Red Sox and Yankees were involved in a brawl that led to Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee missing much of the season with a shoulder injury.

It was the first baseball brawl my brothers and I had ever experienced. The way we saw it, the Yankees' Lou Piniella came into Carlton Fisk way too hard during a play at the plate. Fisk took exception, and we believed he had every right to do so. We had a subscription to Sports Illustrated at the time, and we absolutely loved this cover. Beat him senseless, Carlton!

Piniella enraged us so much that we heckled the guy for the rest of his Yankee career. We could not stand Piniella. As unlikeable as many of the Yankees were in the '70s -- Reggie, Munson, Billy Martin -- Piniella took the brunt of our abuse. We laughed every time he struck out, we taunted him every time he struggled to catch a fly ball. He was the outlet for whatever schoolboy injustice we were experiencing at the time. My dad, who is a Red Sox fan, even got into the act. To this day, he'll say "Sweet Lou" in a derisive tone.

So when Topps issued this card of Fisk the very next year, we recalled that play with Piniella. Never mind that it's Willie Randolph sliding into home. We saw Piniella. And we wanted Fisk to level the guy again. Add the fact that it was a great action photo for its time (the play is centered, there is nothing obstructing or distracting the main subject), and it was one of our favorite cards.

This, in fact, is the very same card I had as an 11-year-old. One day I'll have to upgrade it, but I won't dispose of this card. It will always remind me of when I learned that some teams are "good" and other teams are "bad."

In a way, it's sad that a lot of fans consider the Red Sox just like the Yankees nowadays: two peas in a diabolical pod. They don't get to direct all their venom toward one single team, like we did.

I do see their point to an extent. The Red Sox spend and spend just like the Yankees have done for years. But I don't see them as the same at all. Partly because I don't think they go about their spending the same way. But mostly because for years, the Red Sox were just like the Indians, Orioles, Royals, Tigers, and especially, the Dodgers. They were all partners in a worthy cause -- taking down the evil empire. I think the Red Sox have decades and decades to go before they can match the level of animosity that the Yankees have crafted in the last 80-plus years.

That's the legacy of the Yankees in many ways -- giving fans a villain to jeer. And that's the legacy of this card, reminding us of conflict, and taking sides, and going to battle. As unpleasant as that sounds, 1977 Topps Carlton Fisk, I appreciate you for all of that.


  1. Chicago was happy to have Fisk for the last half of his career. I didn't get many of the 1977 Topps cards, so I didn't see that card for many years. That is a great looking of the absolute best, especially in that era.

  2. My hatred of the Yankees began around 10:00 CST October 14, 1976. At about that time, Chris Chambliss not only deposited a Mark Littell pitch over the wall to beat the Royals (Cardinals sucked so bad then that I'd root for the Royals, too). That I could live with. However, what my 12 year old self who knew baseball rules couldn't live with was that Chambliss didn't touch the plate.

    According to what I knew of the Rules of Baseball, when a player abandons the base to which he is headed, he is to be called out. Chambliss should have been called out and the players brought back on the field to continue, but no. The powers that be were biased in favor of the Yankees and they rightfully went on to get their butts handed to them by the Reds.

    When Robin Ventura had his walk-off grand slam turned into a single in the playoffs (1999 or 2000), I remember the camera on the AL game cutting to a shot of Yankee coach Chris Chambliss saying something like, "Whoa, I did that too. Am I in trouble?" The announcers said there was some rule adopted about abandonment not being called when the player's route to the base was impossibly obstructed.

    I don't care. Chambliss should still be called out and those players need to be summoned back to the field (of course now I don't know where they'd play since that game was in Yankee Stadium) to pick up, finish and then replay the World Series if the Royals win Game 5 of the ALCS.

    I'll take my pill now.

  3. Yankees inspire grrrr for an impressive array of reasons. MMayes and Night Owl, this is some of the best card context we've ever heard. We, um, appreciate it.

    Word verification: gorky