An Antidote to Baseball (Part 1)

It’s the second half of baseball season and the New York Mets are stinking again. As it happens, the protagonist of Famepunk is a Mets fan. Throughout part 1 she favors a ratty old t-shirt with Lenny Dykstra’s number (4) and she has reposed her teenaged hopes in a long succession of World Series championships stretching from ’86 to ’87, ’88 and so onward. She loves the team that was once my mortal enemy. I was a Boston Red Sox fan.

Living in Massachusetts in 1975, when they reached but lost the Series to the Cincinnati Reds, the Red Sox were a natural fit. For me, the primary appeal was visual. I had a big crush on Carlton Fisk. He was the catcher so half the time you couldn’t even see his face—but this made his at-bats all the sweeter. Between pitches he’d keep one foot in the box and pivot left; one cheek swollen with chewing tobacco, his shapely lips set in a Lincolnesque line, he’d flex his back and appraise his long bat with the calmest of confident certainties that it needed to be whole, because it was about to make contact with alum-tanned cowhide in a manner productive of runs. His hits and homers were my nightly highlights. For a big man, he was a threat on the basepaths, as well. Behind the plate he was imposing but lithe in his padded armor: he’d spring to his feet and suddenly tower over the batter and umpire, his mask tipped up above his high forehead as he peered across the diamond at the play on second base. Carlton Fisk had a good arm and threw out a lot of runners. He looked like an Indian brave.

I was not his only fan of either sex. Carlton Fisk was an unusually popular player. Known as a woodsman, he put on a red flannel shirt and got paid to be in ads for chewing tobacco and trucks; he lived clean and seemed likely to go from success to success and achieve his admitted goal of the governorship in his home state, New Hampshire, not too long after retiring from the major leagues. From which post, almost without question (look how far those Sununus have gotten, and they’re ugly) he’d have attained national office, even the Presidency—Carlton Fisk, a natural, principled leader of unstained character and the strongest work ethic might have been President on 9/11, in place of what we had instead.

It doesn’t bear thinking about. It didn’t happen because the Boston Red Sox out of spite as well as greed sold Carlton Fisk for thirty pieces of silver, uprooting him from New England and his nascent constituency; he went to Chicago and spent the rest of his catching career on the White Sox. Along with my parents, I was at the induction ceremony in Cooperstown where he delivered a long, deep speech.

LINK: This speech.

As everyone knew, he’d played every day for years and years with both knees blown and hurting; he’d gone out and crouched there, balancing on his toes, flashing signs at brain-locked rookies, taking foul tips to the instep and groin. He was an honorable man and an honest worker whose face should have been on our money someday.

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