Quick release: White Sox catch Fisk by surprise 45-year-old catcher cut days after breaking record

June 29, 1993|By Joey Reaves | Joey Reaves,Chicago Tribune Staff writer Milton Kent contributed to this article.

CLEVELAND -- In the end, Carlton Fisk was among the last to know.

Seems that's always the case.

Professional athletes, especially the exceptional ones, often are

blind to reality. Maybe it's their self-confidence. Or self-absorption. Or, perhaps, self-deception.

Whatever it is, the best athletes rarely can bring themselves to admit the end is near.

Fisk didn't even know it yesterday afternoon, when he was summoned to general manager Ron Schueler's 13th-floor hotel suite.

Never mind that Fisk, by his own admission, was having trouble playing up to the level of major-league competition at age 45. Or that 22 consecutive runners had stolen against him. Or that just about everyone who watched him try to play this year knew his career was over.

"He thought I was calling him in to talk about his role on the team in general," said Schueler, who personally told Fisk that he was done with the White Sox.

"It was a rough thing to do, but I believe in my heart it was the right thing to do," Schueler said. "This is strictly a baseball decision. I feel I owe it to the fans and the White Sox organization to try to bring home a winner."

Fisk, who hit .189 in 53 at-bats with one homer and four RBI, had said repeatedly he thought he still could help make the White Sox a winner this year. But he wasn't available to say so directly last night.

Fisk made a surprise appearance at Cleveland Stadium during last night's game, showing up in street clothes and leaning out of the stands to chat with his former teammates in the bullpen down the left-field line.

"He was great," said reliever Donn Pall. "He said he was going crazy pacing up and down. He didn't know what to do with himself after all those years of going to the park every night."

Fisk ducked out of the park, though, before reporters could catch him. His wife, Linda, said earlier in the evening Fisk was shocked by the news of the release -- at least by the timing of it.

The timing was convenient for the White Sox. They kept Fisk on the roster long enough to set the major-league record for games caught -- 2,225 -- which he did at Comiskey Park last Tuesday.

But he never caught another game after he broke the record. And he was released as soon as the White Sox left on their next road trip.

Fisk's teammates knew better than anyone his physical limitations. But most said they were shocked at the news.

The locker room did have an eerie feeling. And it carried onto the field.

Joey Cora put two pieces of masking tape on the back of his batting helmet and wrote with a black felt-tip pen: "Thanks -- 72."

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, who brought Fisk to the White Sox when he was the Chicago GM, said: "He's been a tremendous tribute to the game and to himself.

"When we acquired him in 1981, I had told the owners that it would take a five-year contract to get him, although I could only guarantee three good years because he was 32 years old then. That was 13 years ago."

Fisk broke in with the Boston Red Sox and was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1972. He appeared in 2,499 games, 33rd on the all-time list. He ranks 36th on the home run list with 376, holds the major-league record for most homers by a catcher with 351 and the White Sox record with 214.

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