Recently, I took the biggest case I ever handled to binding arbitration. Oftentimes in this law business parties agree to submit their cases to an agreed upon arbitrator for a variety of factors: reducing costs and avoiding a three week trial were the reasons we agreed to let a single arbitrator decide the issues of fact and law. And while it saved weeks of time in front of a jury, the same could not be said for my preparatory efforts. Thousands of pages of medical records, contracts and blueprints were submitted by both sides on this case involving the alleged negligence of my client, a general contractor at a construction site. Additionally, the transcribed testimony of five witnesses and three experts were submitted to the judge. Finally, three witnesses were called to testify “live” to the arbitrator and the parties delivered opening and closing statements.
My opponent was quite good, but didn’t really care about the rules of evidence and frequently made outrageous claims that bore no relation to the evidence produced to the arbitrator. Thus, the hearing was a knife fight that turned into a firefight culminating in global thermo-nuclear war. After eight hours, it mercifully concluded with the plaintiff asking for an award of six million dollars and yours truly countering that, under the law, the plaintiff deserved a big fat donut: I asked for a not guilty.
My client, a great guy who has invited me over to his home for bbq’s and other events, seemed exhausted after enduring a brutal cross-examination. I suggested we go for a beer; he accepted. We headed over to an over-priced, downtown bar near my office at my suggestion. As we sat and decompressed the day’s events we were both growing weary of re-living the hearing. Baseball Tonight was on one of the televisions, so I gently nuanced the conversation toward baseball, hoping he’d accept the bait and help me change the topic. Mercifully, he took it.
Four beers into our baseball discussion, and on our eighth or ninth overall, Baseball Tonight gave way to a White Sox broadcast. I told the client that in between college and law school, I clerked at a law firm. One day, quite randomly, the partner I worked for offered me the firm’s tickets to the Sox game that night. I’m a Cub fan, but a fan of the game overall, so I called up Peashoot to see if he could make it to the game that night. Fortune smiled upon us that night, for (shamefully) unbeknownst to Peashoot or I, Carlton “Pudge” Fisk was poised to break the MLB record for most games caught. There were lavish ceremonies including the presentation of a Harley Davidson motorcycle to Pudge.
The client took in the story and then hit me with a jaw-dropper: his brother married Carlton Fisk’s daughter. I was in awe and asked a million questions about one of my all-time favorite players. He described him as the nicest guy in the world…unless engaged in a competition of any sort. Fishing, golfing, playing horseshoes, it didn’t matter — Pudge wants to win. Turns out he and his brother, both Sox fans, adored Pudge even before they became in-laws. Then he asked me my all-time favorite Pudge moment. Now, most of the country and all of Boston would certainly cite Fisk’s dramatic Game 6 home run in the 1975 World Series. But not me.
The Game 6 homer ranks an astonishing number three on my all-time Fisk list. Moment number two came when Deion Sanders — before he turned solely to football — broke into MLB with the Yankees. David Halberstam, one of the greatest journalists/historians/baseball afficianados of the late Twentieth Century summed up the scene:
Fisk, who had been a party to many great Red Sox-Yankee games and took playing in Yankee Stadium very seriously, was by then with the White Sox. The incident started because when Deion came to bat, he would always draw a dollar sign in the dirt with his bat. That offended Fisk, who — as he told Boston Globe baseball writer Dan Shaughnessy — was upset because he thought when Deion did it, “He was pimping me.”
That day Deion hit an infield pop-up and deigned not to run it out. Fisk, on that day more than any contemporary Yankee the standard bearer of the team’s tradition, hated the idea that someone would wear that uniform and not play hard, and had shouted at him to run it out.
|Deion’s two-sport distractions didn’t sit well with Atlanta Braves teammates in the early 1990s.|
“I was burning,” Fisk told Shaughnessy years later. “I was fuming for some reason. And this was a guy playing for the other team. So he comes up the next time and draws his dollar sign in the dirt and says, ‘Hey, man, the days of slavery are over.’ ”
At that point the two men got in a shouting match, with Fisk telling him there was a right way and a wrong way to play the game, “and if you don’t play it right, I’m going to kick your ass right here in Yankee Stadium.” It’s too bad he didn’t — it might have been that rare baseball time, I think, that no one would have come out of the Yankee dugout to defend a teammate.
But my all-time, number one Fisk moment also came at Yankee Stadium a few years earlier. In a meaningless, mid-August contest at the Stadium, the Yankees had runners on first and second and one out. Bobby Meachum stood at the plate for the Bombers, and launched a ball into the gap. Surely, both men would score. But the Sox centerfielder managed to cut the ball off and hurl it to Ozzie Guillen, then the Sox shortstop. Guillen wheeled it home. Both of the Yankee baserunners steamed toward the plate, one taking the inside route the other the outside. Guillen’s throw was wide. Fisk dove for it, caught it, then lept in the opposite direction to tag out the first Yankee runner. The second baserunner, not far behind the first, seemed sure to score since Fisk was now out of position after his first tag. But Fisk lunged back toward the dish, narrowly tagging the runner to end the inning. You kids at home can score that the ultra-rare 8-6-2-2 to end the inning. It’s the last time a catcher recorded two consecutive outs at the plate on the same play. A few years ago, Baseball Tonight compiled the all-time best Web Gems for each team in the majors; Pudge’s heroics that day earned him the nod for the White Sox. (Nota Bene: I searched in vain for video of this epic play. But the suits at MLB aren’t kidding when they say their product cannot be reproduced without their express consent.)
After thoroughly discussing all things Pudge, the client and I called it a night. I told him that it would take weeks for the arbitrator to make his decision, but that I’d be in touch once I received it. Only half-jokingly, I told him that if we won the case, I expected him to get me an autographed Carlton Fisk baseball. A couple weeks ago, the arbitrator filed his ten page decision. We won. I called the client and told him the good news to which he responded most enthusiastically. I’m still waiting for my autographed baseball.
Footnote: Ivan Rodriguez is arguably the greatest catcher of the modern era. But it bothers me to no end that the media nicknamed him “Pudge”. For that reason alone I’ve never rooted for the guy. I like and respect him and further realize he did not choose his nom de baseball, but I cannot forgive it. Carlton Fisk is an icon. Would any other icon’s nickname be reapplied to a new player? A new “Babe” or “Say Hey Kid” or “Splendid Splinter”? Absolutely not. There is only one Pudge.
Footnote 2: As a Cub fan, I really hate the Cardinals, but their fans know the game like no other fans I’ve met. Perhaps the greatest Cardinal of all was Stan “The Man” Musial, the most underrated player in MLB history. But now the Cards have Albert Pujols who, barring injury, looks like he will surely swipe that title from Mr. Musial. The Cards fans, in a tip of the cap to their hero of yesteryear and their new Latino icon, simply refer to Mr. Pujols as, El Hombre. Well done Cardinals fans.