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He is 45 years old, headed to the Hall of Fame, but also going nowhere. He is a famous bouncing tin can tied to the first-place charge of the Chicago White Sox. He is not happy.
"I don't want any ceremony when I set the record," Fisk says. "I don't want anything. I don't want to be showered with accolades and all of that. I don't want the big kiss, some shallow attempt at reconciliation. I don't want things to be that cynical, everything written off by saying, 'Let's smooth it over.' Because it's not smoothed over."
The news is that sometime in the next few weeks he will catch in his 2,226th game (he was 10 games short at week's end), breaking the major league record for most games played as a catcher, set three years ago by Bob Boone. It is not the grandest of Fisk's records—he already is the alltime home run leader among catchers (with 372), already is the alltime home run leader for all players in a White Sox uniform (214), already is the alltime leader for home runs hit after a 40th birthday (72)—but it probably says more about him than any of the rest. Endurance has been his greatest gift, the ability to light the effects of age and injury on both body and mind.
"It's a record that's not going to be broken for a long while," Fisk says. "Maybe it will never be broken. There's nobody close who's playing today. You say that maybe a young guy like Ivan Rodriguez in Texas could do it; but he has to play for 20 more years and already he's having back problems. Injuries are the thing. I figured it out one time, that I've lost 4½ to five years to injuries. If you add in those games and then the spring training games, the Windy City Classics against the Cubs and the simulated games at nine o'clock in the morning when some pitcher needed a workout...you have a lot more games than are on the record."
The fact that he has played so long amazes Fisk as much as it amazes everyone else. He is 11 months younger than Texas Ranger pitcher Nolan Ryan but four years older than the next-oldest position player. Where has the time gone? When Fisk moved from the Boston Red Sox to the White Sox in 1981 at the age of 33, he rented out the house he owned in New Hampshire, figuring the tenants would be house sitters until his family's return in four or five years. The house sitters are in their 13th year at the house. His kids—two daughters and a son—are grown.
"I've played so long, I was around the first time for bell-bottoms and long hair," Fisk says. "Now they're coming back. I saw a girl in Toronto the other day. She had black bell-bottoms and those shoes with the two-inch soles. Looked awful. Just awful. And the hair...you see the sideburns now in the clubhouse. The mustaches. That's the way it started the first time. Pretty soon it was long hair everywhere. Didn't it look ridiculous? Afros. Do you remember Afros? Only two men in the history of the world were meant to wear Afros—Dr. J and Oscar Gamble....
"I was stretching before a game early this year in Boston," he says. "I see this guy with all-gray hair, and glasses. I didn't know who he was. I figured he was some old-timer, some sportswriter around Fenway Park who I just didn't remember. Then he came over and started talking to me. It was Bill Lee. I hadn't seen him for three or four years. He had long hair and a beard then. Now it was short and gray. Bill Lee...."
One season has blended into another. Fisk started working with weights after a severe knee injury almost ended his career in 1974, and he kept going. He added personal trainer Phil Claussen to his regimen in 1984 and became enthused with pushing the limits of how long a player could play this most difficult position at the highest level of the game. The limits seemed to bend with each further push. Until now.
How can he push when there is nothing to push? There are whispers that he can't throw out people at second anymore, and he's hitting only .167 in 30 at bats, but how can he change minds and numbers if he doesn't have a chance to play? "There's definitely something wrong here," says Chicago pitcher Jack McDowell. "He's definitely getting the short end of the stick."
"I was all right at the end of spring training this year," Fisk says. "I was all right in the first few weeks of the season. I was playing almost every other day. I had a home run in the first game I played. I had five hits in the first five games I played. Since then...I just haven't played much. I've had about three at bats in the last two weeks. How do you do that? How do you stay sharp? Every game you go in, you just feel out of rhythm, out of sync. I don't say I'm the player I was. I can't play seven days in a row anymore, but I also can't play one game in two weeks, either."