Carlton Fisk Heads to Baseball Hall of Fame

Tuesday, July 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Carlton Fisk thinks about what he would put on his Hall of Fame plaque if the words were up to him.

``Played hard. Did good. Carried the torch for the game,'' he said.

The Hall is a bit more wordy, putting in some of the player's accomplishments and when he played.

Fisk will get to see the plaque this weekend when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Tony Perez and Sparky Anderson.

``There's going to be such a flood of emotions, such a high level of anxiety,'' Fisk said. ``You don't know if it's going to overwhelm you. You just hope to control it. A lot of times it's hard to believe it's going to be me standing up there.''

The adjustment from star ballplayer to retirement is never easy. Fisk, now a young-looking 52, slips in and out of a Manhattan restaurant without notice despite his 6-foot-3 frame, something that never could have happened 20 years ago when he was, well, leader of New York's enemy.

Up until a few years ago, when he walked down a New York street he was met with shouts of ``You stink!'' or harsher words to that effect. Now, he says, it's ``Way to go!''

``Some days,'' he said, ``I wake up and I know I could play — I COULD PLAY! That's the hardest part — the feeling of knowing you've got something special that night, that you're something special that night.''

Fisk had five knee operations, yet caught more major league games (2,226) than any other player. He hit 376 homers, 351 as a catcher, yet is remembered for one not in the total — his coaxing an extra-inning drive fair to win Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

Some days, his knees really feel it.

``I always wanted to be a shortstop. If not that, then a third baseman,'' he said.

He was a pitcher and shortstop in high school, where, because of the New England weather, his team scheduled just 12 games a year. He switched to catching because he was told it was the quickest route to the big leagues. He's not sure he would do it again.

Years later, the healthy times stick out — how he couldn't wait to leave home and get to the ballpark, how he was ``running around like a little kid.''

``I remember I said, `I feel good today.' That doesn't happen very often,'' he said. ``You have to revel in those times you feel good. They're so many times you don't. You get to that point, you know you're on borrowed time.

``You catch one in the neck, you catch one in the face mask, you catch one in the foot. I still have three toenails that aren't growing back right after getting crushed so many times.''

Fisk, who is going around the country doing promotional work for Smirnoff vodka, sees a fair amount of ball these days. While he says he has the utmost respect for Mike Piazza, whose offensive numbers easily are the greatest of any catcher in history, you can see by Fisk's face that he's only impressed, not amazed.

``It's going to be really difficult to compare eras, for a lot of different reasons,'' he said. ``The evolution of athletes — they're bigger and stronger because of the strength and conditioning programs that were taboo when I started. There's the nutritional supplements that allow you to become stronger. They're the new ballparks. They don't call it Enron Field; they call it Ten-run Field.''

When he arrives at Cooperstown, probably on Thursday, he'll spend some time with family and friends — and with the plaque. He won't know what it says until he gets there.

``You're able to see it, touch it, hold it. Have pictures taken with it,'' Fisk said. ``But once it leaves your hand and goes to them, it's on the wall forever — forever. Oooohhh. It gives me goosebumps.''