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This section is dedicated to one of the most intense rivalries in baseball history. The Munson / Fisk Rivalry. I'm going to attempt to clarify some things here, as I have done as much reading as anyone on the subject of this rivalry.
By the time Fisk joined the Red Sox as the full-time catcher in 1972, Thurman Munson was an established star! According to ESPN's Peter Gammons, Thurman hated Fisk because he was jealous of him -- "the chiseled, handsome Fisk, in contrast to the dumpy, stubbled Munson." I totally disagree with this statement. Thurman was never "jealous" over Fisk's looks. That is 100% totally absurd! What ticked off Thurman was the fact that the press and media, particularly Curt Gowdy, (a former Boston announcer who was doing the "Game Of The Week" at the time) had annointed Fisk to be the second coming of Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella all rolled up into one, while Thurman was being forgotten in the press. The fact is that Thurman was more ticked off at the press in the beginning than he was at Fisk.
The two actually were civil to each other, until one day in 1973. On Aug. 1, 1973, the rivalry heated up in a big way when the two All-Stars fought after a collision at home plate. It was a wild free-for-all with Thurman getting the decision in terms of punches landed. Gene "Stick" Michael got the worst of it actually. With the two teams tied for first place, tensions were ready to explode by the time the ninth inning rolled around. With one out, Thurman was at third, Felipe Alou at first, Gene Michael batting, and John Curtis was pitching. Thurman broke for the plate on a suicide squeeze. Michael tried to bunt, and missed, then tried to step in Fisk's way. Bad move! Fisk roughed him out of the way and braced for Munson, who crashed into him as hard as he could. Munson tried to lie on top of him while Fisk held onto the ball so as to allow Alou to keep rounding the bases.
Fisk kicked Munson off him, and swiped at him with his fist. Michael grabbed Fisk, Curtis grabbed Munson --Fisk threw Michael down with his left arm and fell to the ground. In the meantime, Thurman was like a maniac, throwing as many punches as possible to Fisk's face and body. As baseball brawls go, it was exciting. In the clubhouse afterward, the exalted Munson snipped at the press, "Go ask him who won the fight, he knows," confident that he won the decision.
Let's try to clarify some things here. There was another incident where Fisk slid into Munson in 1972 as well. No one makes any big deal about that, probably because of the fact that not much was on the line in terms of the standings. Usually, Thurman chalked up collisions at the plate as "just being a part of baseball" and he never held any grudges. With Fisk it was different. The two men didn't like each other, not so much because of who they were, but what uniform they were wearing.
Things simmered down a bit with the rivalry for a few years. Then, in 1976, came "The Brawl." The hot-headed Lou Piniella crashed into Fisk at the plate feet first. Both players came up swinging. Another bench clearer. "I went to a baseball game last night and a hockey game broke out," wrote one reporter. When the brawl was over, Bill Lee had injured his shoulder after getting in fights with Mickey Rivers and Graig Nettles. It was as wild a scene as anyone could remember. The Yankees went on to win the first of three straight pennants that year.
When Reggie Jasckson came over via free agency, things heated up again in the rivalry. Thurman was even called upon to defend himself one day when Fisk attacked him in the press. When the two teams met in a 1977 series, Munson went over to Fisk and stated briskly, "Hey Fisk, I just wanted to let you know that I never said anything bad about you." Fisk turned away without a reply. He had gotten personal with Thurman in the press, a real no-no.
Sometimes the the rivalry could get pretty funny. It was well known that Thurman would always check Fisk's stats in the papers. Thurman would fume at the mere mention of Fisk's name. Gene Michael would take articles about Fisk and stick them in Thurmans locker, then watch while Thurman went ballistic trying to find out who did it. One day, Yankees PR Director Marty Appell (who later collaborated with Thurman on his bio) included in the media notes all the categories in which Munson led AL catchers. He also put that Munson was second among AL catchers in assists to Fisk. Of course, one of Thurm's Yankee teammates had underlined that area as a joke to get a rise out of him. That day, Yankees pitchers struck out seven batters. On every one, Munson dropped the ball, threw it to first for the assist, then gestured toward the press box.
There were some amazing similarities between the two men too. For one thing, both were small town boys. Thurman grew up poor on the outskirts of Canton, Ohio while Fisk grew up in western New Hampshire, in the town of Charlestown. Both players placed a premium on catching, and felt they could be more of a help with the team if they could call a good game. Thurman called his own games, and both men were respected by their pitching staffs. Catching first, offense second was their motto. Both men were leaders on the field.
Also, both men put family first. Sure, both men loved their respective teams, but that didn't stop Thurman from wanting to be traded to the Cleveland Indians so he could be closer to his family. And if he had lived long enough, he probably would have taken the free agent route to be close to home. Fisk, as much as he was loved in Boston, still had to do what was right for himself and his family when he bolted for the White Sox. His contract with Chi-Town gave his family the kind of financial security he was looking for. Both were smart businessmen. Thurman had many millions of dollars in real estate holdings! Both cared about winning, bottom line. They were both 100% hustlers on the field!
So you see, there were many similarities between the two superstars. To clarify this even more, I will take you back to an interview Fisk did the night after he was elected to The Hall Of Fame. Suzyn Waldman of WFAN in New York, who is also a Yankees announcer, had a chance to chat on the air with her old friend, Fisk. Waldman who grew up a Red Sox fan, has known Carlton since his rookie year. The subject eventually got down to the Munson/Fisk Rivalry. Fisk corrected many misconceptions. "We never hated each. It was the uniform more than anything. We were so much alike in our attitudes about baseball. I think one of the things I regret most about my career is that Thurman and I were never teammates. He would have been a great teammate to have." Fisk went on even further: "We would have had to have played different positions, since we were both number one catchers. I know that if it wasn't for the Yankee uniform he wore, we would have gotten along great. I never hated Thurman."
Waldman confirms this when she stated that she was with Fisk when the news reached him that Thurman had been killed in the jet crash. "He cried. Tears were coming hard down his cheeks," Waldman said. "You see this big man like Carlton Fisk crying like that and you know right there at that moment that he never hated Thurman."
The Munson-Fisk rivalry was not only a rivalry of two teams, but two different types of fans. The hatred that the two teams' fans have for each other is just simply unbelievable. There are many Red Sox fans to this day, who still hate Thurman. Below is a copy of an e-mail I received in February, 1999 by an irate Red Sox fan named Gene C.. This proved once and for all to me that fans take things too far.