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Ray Fisher

Pitcher
Born: October 4, 1887(1887-10-04)
Middlebury, Vermont
Died: November 3, 1982 (aged 95)
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Batted: Right Threw: Right 
MLB debut
July 2, 1910 for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
October 2, 1920 for the Cincinnati Reds
Career statistics
Win-Loss Record     100-94
Strikeouts     680
ERA     2.82
Teams
Ray Fisher baseball card

Ray Lyle Fisher (October 4, 1887 in Middlebury, Vermont -November 3, 1982 in Ann Arbor, Michigan) was an American pitcher in Major League Baseball. His debut game took place on July 2, 1910. His final game took place on October 2, 1920. During his career he played for the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds.

Nicknamed "Pick" (short for pickerel),[1] Fisher was an all-round athlete who played football, basketball, and baseball. He played on Vermont's 1904 State Championship football team and received multiple college scholarships in football, but his real love was baseball and he stayed on in his hometown attending Middlebury College. After stellar performances on the college mound, he was offered a position pitching with a semi-pro team in Valleyfield, Quebec in the summer of 1907. In 1908 and 1909 he pitched in the minor leagues for Hartford in the Connecticut League, going 12-1 in his first partial season (batting .304) and 25-4 the following year with 243 strikeouts. His contract was sold to the New York Highlanders (Yankees), and he reported there in 1910 following his graduation from Middlebury, bringing along- to the amusement of his new teammates- his homemade bat from off the farm. Dubbed the "Vermont Schoolmaster" because he taught Latin during his first off season, Ray pitched for New York from 1910-1917*[2], spending 1918 in the Army stationed at Fort Slocum off New Rochelle. As a rookie, the newspapers were frequently comparing Fisher to Highlander's spitball pitcher Jack Chesbro, and early in his tenure with the Yankees Fisher was also cited by Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie as one of the twelve best pitchers in the American League, both players also listing Ed Walsh, Russ Ford, Walter Johnson, and Smoky Joe Wood.*[3] His ERA ranked fifth in the league in 1915. The following year, a bout of pleurisy was to cripple his effectivness. From 1911 to 1915, during the off season, Fisher was also employed as Middlebury College's first Physical (Athletic) Director. About the time of his discharge from the Army, Fisher was selected off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, thereby taking a $3100 cut in pay from his $6,600 with the Yankees. Ray pitched for the Reds in 1919 and 1920. He went 14-5 in 1919 and pitched game three in the infamous 1919 World Series, a game in which the Reds were shut out by Chicago's Dickie Kerr. In the spring of 1920 the American and National Leagues agreed to outlaw use of the spitball*[4], though 22 spitball pitchers were exempted from the ban for the season. The following year a permanent ban went into effect, with 17 pitchers "grandfathered" for the remainder of their pitching careers. Though he had largely discontinued use of the spitter by 1914, Fisher was one of those allowed to continue to use the pitch.

Fisher is known for being one of the few players to be re-instated into professional baseball after being banned for life. Prior to the 1921 season, the Reds offered him a contract in which his salary was $1000 less than that of the previous season. After making his objections known in a letter to Red's president August Herrmann, Fisher signed the contract. Before the season began, however, Fisher learned that the position of head baseball coach had again become available at the University of Michigan, a position for which he had belatedly applied the previous year on the recommendation of Branch Rickey. Fisher requested, and was apparently given by manager Pat Moran, permission to go and look into the job.* [5] When he was offered the position at Michigan, the Reds' management tried to induce Fisher to remain with the team by offering to restore the $1000 cut from the previous year's contract. Fisher thought the Michigan position held greater long-term promise and accepted the job, believing that he would be given his release from Cincinnati or placed on the list of voluntarily retired players (both of which were subsequently reported in the local papers).*[6] After Michigan's playing season was over, other teams began contacting Fisher, inquiring as to his availability to pitch, Rickey's St. Louis Cardinals among them. Fisher contacted the Reds for clarification on his status, noting that he realized they had first call on his services. He learned that he was being placed on the list of those ineligible to play, the Reds citing his having given them only seven days notice, rather than the required ten, prior to leaving the club. Fisher appealed to the commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the commissioner promised to look into the matter. After obtaining the Red's version of the negotiations, the commissioner upheld the Red's position and banned Fisher for leaving the team after having signed a contract. Ray ended his major league career with a 100-94 record and a 2.82 ERA. His final game was pitched on October 2, 1920 and it was part of the only triple header played in the 20th century. Following the determination of his ineligibility, Ray signed on with one of the "outlaw" teams, pitching only briefly for the Frankin, Pennsylvania Oilers before the team folded. In 1951 Ray was called to Washington, D.C. to testify about his "blacklisting" in a House Judiciary Committee investigation into the alleged monopoly of power in professional baseball.

Fisher remained head coach for the University of Michigan's baseball team for 38 seasons, also serving as freshman football coach and assistant basketball coach for a number of years. (In football he coached Gerald Ford.) While at Michigan, he led his teams to 14 Big Ten championships and the 1953 College World Series championship, after which he was named Coach of the Year. Within his first few seasons, Ray became Michigan's first coach in the 20th century to integrate a varsity sport. In 1929 and 1932 Fisher's Michigan teams played against teams in Japan at the invitation of Meiji University. Fisher was active in the startup of the National Association of College Baseball Coaches and served as its first vice president. During the 1940s he was hailed by Esquire Magazine as a close second to Jack Barry of Holy Cross as the top college baseball coach in the country. While coaching summer teams in Vermont's Northern League, Fisher mentored Robin Roberts who sent many accolades in Fisher's direction once he was signed into the major leagues. By the time he retired in 1958, Fisher had compiled a 636-295-8 record with only two losing seasons, and he held the record as the University of Michigan's winningest coach for 70 years (1930-2000). For five years during the 1960s Fisher coached pitchers for the farm teams of the Milwaukee Braves and the Detroit Tigers. In 1970 the baseball stadium at U of M, until then unnamed, was dedicated as Ray Fisher Stadium. In 2008 a renovated Ray Fisher Stadium was incorporated into the university's new Wilpon Baseball and Softball Complex, Fred Wilpon having pitched for Michigan under Ray. After a reinvestigation into the circumstances surrounding his leaving the Cincinnati Reds, Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn re-instated Fisher in 1980, declaring him a "retired player in good standing" with professional baseball. In an interesting twist of fate, following the 1981 players' strike the Cincinnati Reds came to the University of Michigan for workouts at Ray Fisher Stadium.

In the summer of 1982, Fisher was invited to the yearly Old Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium, his first visit to the famous facility which had been built after he'd left the team. Approaching age 95, he was then the oldest former Yankee, Cincinnati Red, and World Series player. He received two standing ovations from the fans and threw out the opening pitch for that day's Yankees-Rangers game. He died three months later in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is buried in Washtenong Memorial Park. In 2003, through the efforts of the Vermont chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, the State of Vermont placed an historic site marker near Ray Fisher's birth place, at the intersection of U.S. Route 7 (Court Street) and Creek Road in Middlebury, Vermont.

See also

References

  1. ^ Hart, Chip. "Ray Fisher". Society for American Baseball Research. http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&bid=1498&pid=4457. Retrieved 2008-11-05.   Fisher's nickname was for years listed in baseball reference books as "Chic", though Fisher himself stated that this had never been his nickname and that "Pick" had been used since his days in college.
  2. ^ See Istorico, Ray (2008) Greatness in Waiting: An Illustrated History of the Early New York Yankees, 1903-1919. McFarland & Co.; and Jones, David (2008) Deadball Stars of the American League. Potomac Books
  3. ^ As reported in the 18 November 1911 Philadelphia Inquirer, "Tyrus Cobb and Napolean Lajoie, the greatest batsmen in the American League, if not in the country, were recently given twenty four hours to study the work of the American league pitchers and name the best ones as they appear to them. Cobb named as the best twelve: Russell Ford, Joe Wood, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Ed Walsh, Eddie Karger, Bob Groom, Dolly Gray, Vean Gregg, Harry Krause, Ray Fisher and Jimmy Scott. Larry's selections were: Ed Walsh, Walter Johnson, Russell Ford, Jack Coombs, Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, Joe Wood, Barney Pelty, George Mullin, Bill Donovan, Ray Fisher and Frank Lange."
  4. ^ See Faber, Charles F. and Faber, Richard B. (2006) Spitballers: The Last Legal Hurlers of the Wet One. McFarland & Co.
  5. ^ "Cincinnati Inquirer", 6 April 1921: "Fisher received a wire this morning from the Athletic Director at Ann Arbor asking him to come up there for a conference in regards to terms. He requested permission from Moran and asked if he could obtain his release from the Cincinnati club. Pat told him that he had no authority to give releases, but would allow him to go to Michigan to look the ground over. Fisher will leave Indianapolis tomorrow night for Ann Arbor and may not return. If the outlook and the terms are satisfactory he probably will decide to take up college work at once and give up professional baseball. He is in the best condition of any of the Red right-handers and has shown the best form in the exhibition games played to date, so his loss will be felt if he decides to leave the team."
  6. ^ The 8 April 1921 "Cincinnati Post" reported: "Ray Fisher arrived from Ann Arbor today and asked to be released from his contract. He has decided to accept the offer of coach of the baseball team at the University of Michigan. President Herrmann agreed to place him on the voluntary retired list." On 11 April 1921 the Associated Press reported that Ray had been given an “unconditional release” from his contract. Within two weeks, however, Herrmann would write to league President Heydler stating that, "We have not given this player his release, and the question arises whether we should put him on the Voluntary Retired List or place him on the Ineligible List for violation of contract."

Sources

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