Catching Up With ... former Oriole Jack Fisher
The letters roll in, more than a dozen a week, from baseball buffs seeking Jack Fisher's autograph.
“Most of them start out, ‘You were my favorite pitcher,'” Fisher said, laughing. “I don't believe them.”
In 11 years in the majors, including four with the Orioles, the husky right-hander lost more games (139) than he won (86). Only once — with the Orioles in 1960 — did Fisher have a winning record, and then just barely (12-11).
So why, at 71, does he still get fan mail?
“The homers,” Fisher said, from his home in Easton, Pa. “Everyone wants to hear about the homers.”
Three years after that, Fisher surrendered another historic blast. In 1964, with the Mets, he gave up the first homer ever hit at New York's Shea Stadium, to Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“People are going to remember you however they want to remember you,” he said. “I can live with that.”
Forgotten by most is Fisher's role in the Orioles' 1960 pennant chase, when the 21-year-old Frostburg native pitched three straight shutouts for the Birds, who won the city's heart that summer and, very nearly, the American League flag.
“The Kiddie Korps,” they called Baltimore's starting rotation: Chuck Estrada, Milt Pappas, Steve Barber and Fisher, none of them older than 22.
“That season was a lot of fun,” Fisher said. “We were young and dumb enough to think that any time we walked out there, we could beat any team.”
For a while, that's what they did. In early September, the Orioles trailed first-place New York by a single game as the Yankees came to town.
The Birds swept the weekend series, and fans went nuts. Pappas and Fisher pitched back-to-back shutouts, and Estrada followed with a 6-2 victory in which he didn't allow a hit for 6 2/3 innings.
Baltimore led the AL race, but not for long. Two weeks later, New York took four from the Orioles en route to finishing the season with 15 straight wins. The Birds would wait six more years for a pennant.
Fisher was gone by then, dealt to the San Francisco Giants in 1962 in a trade that brought reliever Stu Miller here. His Orioles record: 30 wins, 39 losses and a 3.92ERA.
“I had a ball,” Fisher said of his time in Baltimore. “It was a ‘big' little city; anywhere you went, somebody recognized you.”
He spent four years with the lowly Mets, pitching at least 220 innings each season and going 8-24 in 1965, with scant support.
“Funny thing is, I won five of my first eight games that season, then went 3-21 and actually lowered my ERA,” to 3.94, he said. “Casey Stengel [the manager] gave me the ball every four days. That's all I ever wanted.”
Fisher retired in 1969. He settled in Easton and opened a sports bar called “Fat Jack's,” the nickname hung on him years earlier by Orioles pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm. Fisher sold the place in 1998 and now spends his time playing golf and power-walking. Having had one knee replacement, the 6-2, 290-pound Fisher hopes to shed some of that heft.
“I'm tired of walking around with all of this weight on me,” he said.
The divorced father of three lives five blocks from Larry Holmes, the former world heavyweight champion. Baseball keepsakes bedeck the house. On one wall hangs a framed collage of all of Fisher's baseball cards; nearby is a photo of the pitcher and former teammate Willie Mays, the Hall of Famer.
“I've got one picture of Ted Williams, Mantle and [Joe] DiMaggio, signed by all three,” he said. “Williams was probably the best hitter I ever faced. Yes, he hit that home run — but he was only 2-for-8 lifetime against me.
“That's not too shabby.”
Photo credits: 1. Fisher, left is congratulated by Brooks Robinson after shutting out the Yankees on Sept. 3, 1960. 2. Fisher delivers a pitch during spring training in 1962.