Thursday, May 22, 2008

Welcome Back, Pudge

Way back in my youth, I was probably equally devoted to the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. The Cubs had yet to disappoint me so often I would leave them behind forever and I never quite expected much from the Sox, who even then had the more interesting history, park, neighborhood around the park and fans. But the tide began to turn when the Sox acquired catcher Carlton Fisk, the guy best known at that point for his home run in the 1975 World Series that was accompanied by his jumping down the first base line, waving his arms as if to will the ball to stay fair. It was a pretty big deal back then. Fisk was one of the few true superstars in baseball and no Chicago team had ever gone out and scored as big in the free agent market like this before. 

Part of my excitement was due to my attraction to anything of the Boston region, due to my pretty tenuous family ties to the area, but it didn't take long for me to become a genuine fan of Fisk's because of the way he played the game; his quiet intensity. He was team leader, he hit plenty of home runs and he excelled defensively. He seemed to embody a way of playing baseball that echoes William H. Macy's comment about how to act: "Show up on time, wipe your feet off at the door, and go to work." The only thing you could add to this was that Fisk not only did all the above, but he did it as well as any other player in the game. One famous incident that sums up both how he played and how he respected the game came when the Soxwere playing the Yankees and superstar multi-sport personality Deion Sanders lazily did not run out a ground ball. Fisk loudly scolded "Neon Deion," further endearing him to the hearts of Sox fans everywhere.

Though he played more years and more games for the White Sox -- 12 seasons -- than for the Red Sox -- about 10 seasons -- when Fisk was inducted into the Hall of Fame a few years back, he unsurprisingly chose to wear a Red Sox cap. This might have been because of the way he was treated by White Sox management in his waning days as a player and afterward. Only about a week after he set the major league record in 1993 for games caught, he was unceremoniously cut from the team, while they were on the road, in Cleveland. Adding insult to injury, when Pudge stopped by the team clubhouse that fall to wish his old teammates good luck during the playoffs, he was tossed out by White Sox security.  

But now he has been welcomed back into the fold, in much the same way, it seems, like the Chicago Blackhawks have welcomed back players like Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, to be "ambassadors" for that hockey team. The White Sox held a "Welcome Back Carlton Fisk" night tonight, with a video retrospective of his career shown on the Jumbotron and on the telecast, before the game between the Sox and Cleveland Indians. Fisk spoke briefly to the crowd, and he said he was looking forward to representing the Sox in whatever way he can going forward. He was joined by a few of his old teammates (the group did not include guys like Greg Luzinski or Tom Seaver, which would have been cool), as well. In one respect it could just be a copycat marketing ploy by the Sox to get fans excited and to try to establish a connection that for some reason doesn't much exist with their ex-players. Or the organization could sincerely wish to bury the hatchet, admit their mistakes and give Pudge his due. I'll believe it's the latter -- Fisk deserves as much.

1 comment:

JUSTIN said...

Carlton was before my time, but he seems like a rock star. Sometimes I wish I was born earlier - baseball seems so much more pure then.