50th Edition, Sports

In Memoriam: Hersha “Sue” Fisher Moren 1938 – 2010

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

Editor’s Note:
Sue Fisher was an exemplary history teacher; in fact she was an exemplary teacher of many other things, large and small, significant and (seemingly) trivial, obvious and obscure, conventional and outrageous. She had considerable and palpable intelligence, coupled with seemingly unbounded curiosity.
Educated in the Phoenix, Arizona, public schools and at the University of Chicago, Ms. Fisher earned her doctorate in education at Harvard University, exploring the European influences on 19th century education under the direction and with the praise of one of America’s most respected education critics, Joseph Featherstone.
Ms. Fisher had taught in Beverly and Arlington before being called the Newton Public Schools, beginning at Bigelow Junior High and in the early 1980s joining Newton South’s History Department.
Ms Fisher taught successfully-and memorably-at every level until her retirement in [ ] but, like all of us, she had a secret life—in her case, lives. A seasonal cottage at Gun Point, Great Island, Maine, and baseball were two—especially Red Sox baseball.
Denebola and Newton South were fortunate beneficiaries of the latter. For nearly two decades Ms. Fisher wrote more than a dozen thousand-word “baseball” review/essays for our Book section, usually appearing after Opening Day but not later than May.
In her memory—and because the writing is so worth having—Denebola presents excerpts that demonstrate her deep and wide-ranging knowledge, deft wit, engaging style and the skillful balancing of context with apt detail and telling quotation. From Ty Cobb to Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax to the Cuban leagues, “literary” baseball and down-and-dirty stats, Sue Fisher was always on her game.
Reserved and somewhat formal at first approach Ms. Fisher was wonderfully open and informal with students and friends. Similarly, after dispensing (or dispersing) with this annoyance or that false move, her baseball reviews were often punctuated by colorful and engaging personal asides.
She was funny, she could also be deadly serious, even lethal, particularly when issues of race and class were concerned, inevitably the case with “America’s national pastime.” Sports was a game, rarely only a game.
The Newton schools have lost an invaluable public treasure, Denebola a valuable—and responsible—columnist, Sue Fisher never missed a deadline, including this last.
* * * *
Ms. Fisher had her opening moves—
Another spring: pollen, hayfever, mosquitoes, black flies, college rejections, the inevitable slide of the Red Sox, and killer tornados. (Pride of Havana, May 1999)

Spring is here so brace yourself for another idiosyncratic baseball review. Major league baseball is with us again, after that long pause, and the Sox, in the endless interim, have managed yet again not to acquire any decent relievers or bunters or base runners. Same old Sox, playing the brand of baseball detested by me—and by Ty Cobb. (Cobb: The Life and Times of the Meanest Man Who Ever Played Baseball, May 1995)

Cobb? OK, Ms. Fisher on baseball personalities—
[Cobb]…there’s nothing remote or antique about Cobb…Perhaps it’s his feisty, pugnacious personality, his “me first” attitude that makes him seem so contemporary. Certainly he’s no loveable, flaky Babe Ruth, eating forty hot dogs at a crack and wearing a wet cabbage leaf under his Yankee cap to beat the New York heat…
Cobb was a smart, scheming, nasty racist who treated few men gently in life and went into ‘that good night’ in a rage, clutching a million worth of securities and Lugar in a brown paper bag. He was also0 one of the finest players baseball has ever seen, setting records that have stood for sixty plus years.
Cobb was more than a record setter, however. He was one of baseball’s great innovators, introducing the drag bunt and any number of squeeze plays. He believed in percentage baseball, scorning the long ball style…
Cobb was one of the first men to make money out of PLAYING baseball, willing to take on the owners, challenge the reserve clause, and organize a players’ association.
…author Al Stump still had a few scores to settle with him…he had to endure several months with the half-crazed old man. Chief cook, chauffeur and drinking buddy, Stump camped out in various houses that had no telephone or electrical service because Cobb was convinced that his phones were tapped and Pacific Gas and Electric was overcharging him. Cobb, in 1960, was dead for all practical purposes, given his bad heart, worse kidneys, cancer, and diabetes. But he was still drinking a quart of Scotch a day and making life difficult for all those around him.

Or, Ted Williams—
…baseball is intrinsically elegant, all dramatic pauses and 3-2 counts. Face it; the problem with the return to Fenway [each year] is the team itself, those ‘rely-on-the-long-ball’ Sox, who have sorely tried the patience of baseball fans for at least half a century. Come to think of it, the same can be said about that ultimate Sock, Theodore Williams.
…Linn paints a dusky picture of young Ted in his Depression-era San Diego backyard swinging, and swinging and swinging the bat, waiting for his mother to come home from her efforts for the Salvation Army.
On the whole, however, don’t look for grand adventure here. Most of Ted’s time on Earth has been devoted to swatting a little leather covered sphere (is it still leather?), dropping a fly in front of an angry trout (or fan), or proclaiming the wonders of Nissen bread.
The turmoil is better stuff, much of it centered on Ted’s feuds with the press, reminding us of simpler times when every city had a lot of newspapers, and a lot of sportswriters (not commentators): the time when baseball was the professional sport.
[Here follows a brief history of Boston newspapers, then Ms. Fisher sketches the background to Globe sports writer Dave Egan who covered Williams, working his way through Harvard and Harvard Law…and a bout with alcoholism, “he was rescued by Sam Cohen, sports editor of the Record who knew how to use him drunk or sober,” Ms. Fisher dryly observes. ] When Egan was off on a binge, drying out at Dropkick Murphy’s, or had come in too drunk to type, one of the other writes would be called upon to whack out a rough imitation [of a Williams drubbing].
So much for the window dressing and the fun of the bad old days. Hitter is really a baseball lover’s book at rock bottom and, of course, its focus on statistics, wonderful weird statistics, selected mainly to prove what an extraordinary offensive player Williams was.
The most interesting chapter in the book for me is Linn’s comparison of Joe DiMaggio and Williams. Who was the premier player of his time?…Linn supports the Boston boy, while I, a lifelong Yankee hater, do not. The hitting percentages that favor Ted are miniscule, while Ted’s flaw is monumental. Can he field? (Important, given that half of a player’s time is spent defensively.) Answer-NO. Can DiMaggio? Answer-YES. End of argument.
I finished Linn’s book feeling that Ted Williams’ story was the story of the Red Sox writ small…Just once, I want the Boston newspapers in February to be filled with stories of the Sox acquiring a string of first-rate, shot-term relievers. Or an infield. Perhaps a bunter or two…(Hitter: The Life and Times of Ted Williams, May 1993)

Don’t look back, except on America’s greatest pitcher, Satchel Paige?—

What did we know of Paige in 1946 [when she was living in St Louis and rooting for Cardinals]? He was the greatest black baseball player of all time. He was maybe the greatest pitcher of all time, period. He was somewhere between fifty and seventy years old, and began pitching around 1915. He could spot pitches over a handkerchief or a matchbook. He had beaten Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller in exhibition baseball, and these were pitching names that made strong men tr4emble in 1946. Satch had an invisible fastball and a pinpoint curve. He was the best—and baseball was the poorer for its color line.
So why should you read this book? It’s worth unscrambling the sometimes Byzantine sentence structure just to get a look at life in black baseball in the 1920s and 30s. Paige not only survived, he prospered in a cutthroat world of con artists, Banana Republic dictators, and characters out of the Godfather. Paige was no Marcus Aurelius of St. Francis, but he had an easy humor about himself and his failing. [Asked by the Indians’ owner about Box Office tickets for “Mrs. Paige” and his not being married Satchel replied, ‘I’m not…I’m just in great demand.’
And was he as good as I heard he was when I was a kid? In 1956, when he was at least fifty, Satchel Paige pitched a season for the Miami Marlins of the Triple-A International League. He won 11, lost 4, and his ERA was 1.86. Yes, 1.86. He struck out seventy-nine batters in 111 innings. That’s pitching. (Don’t Look Back, May 1994)


All athletes die two deaths, the natural one we all owe and for them the body’s aging. “Tony C,” the Sox Golden Boy of 1967, Ms Fisher notes, endured a third—

The vernal heroics of this year’s [1998] Red Sox are bound to remind the faithful of the legendary team in 1967. The team of ’67 did not bloom until midsummer and their pitching staff was typically Redsoxian, they had one good pitcher and an odd collection of gentlemen who could throw a tough strike occasionally. Even if the teams are mercifully not identical, the reflowering of New England sets the stage for a retrospective look at one of the heroes of thirty-one years ago, Tony Conigliaro.

As I write, Tim Wakefield has a no hitter going and I feel as if I have fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole: the Sox actually have some good pitchers!
The Conigliaro legend lingers on as the local boy making it big, then suffering a terrible injury, and dying young. It is certain that [authors] intended to praise Tony C. What they actually wrote is a sad and cautionary tale, about those who are obsessed by sports and spoiled by too much too soon.
It is difficult to imagine how appalling the Sox were in the early sixties, tied as they were to the notion that the long ball was everything. There were players such as first baseman named Dick Stuart who just stood there like a cigar store Indian, sticking out his glove. Then why was he on the team? Because he could hit the long ball…

[Conigliaro was local boy, Lynn. After operations and failed comebacks a Boston sports casting career beckoned.]

He would be back in baseball, and maybe, he could put his life back together. We will never know because that week, barely thirty-seven years old, he had a heart-attack. His body did not die, but his brain did, and for the last eight years of his life he existed in a nearly vegetative state. (Tony C., May 1998)

She nails a bad book, yet sings the praises of a remarkable pitcher, Koufax—

Remember this year’s term paper from Hell? The one that you wrote on Sunday and turned in on Monday. The one that came back with a “C-“ on it and lots of red comments along the lines of “you often repeat the same material” and “poor organization.” Wait, don’t deep six it in Newton recycling. Send it to Taylor Publishing of Dallas, Texas, which seemingly approves of repetitious and disorganized material, judging by Mr Gruver’s little volume, Koufax, and you may find yourself in print.
If you really want to appreciate the effect that [Sandy] Koufax had upon even the casual spectator, get a copy of the [Roger] Angell book…turn to the chapter called “Taverns in the Town.” Angell decided in 1963 to view the [World] Series on television in various small New York bars…first game pitted the Dodger’s Koufax against the Yankee’s Whitey Ford. O’Leary’s was jammed now: no one had left and those who wandered in stayed to watch Koufax. By the bottom of the ninth, Koufax had fourteen strikeouts and three shots at the record.
Howard lined out, and Boyer hit a fly to Willie Davis. Koufax’s last chance-a pinch hitter named Harry Bright-came to the plate. The count went to two and two, and there was a mass expulsion of held breath when Bright hit a bouncer that went foul. Then Koufax stretched and threw, Bright swung and missed, and the young men in O’Leary’s burst into sustained applause, like an audience at Lincoln Center…(Koufax, May 2000).

In, 1967, 1975 and for sure in 2004, Sue Fisher’s faith—like that of many, was redeemed—

[first quibble about Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs, May 2008, the authors’] failure to say a few words about that extraordinary ’67 series. OK, it’s been described ad nauseum, but it’s still worth a paragraph or two.
The St. Louis Cards blew into town Boston, saying they were the best team in the majors and would sweep the Sox in four. They became so despised on the East Coast that they almost needed police protection.
My husband, bless him, gave me his only ticket to the first game. I settled in with my Fenway frank, doused with dear old Gulden’s mustard, and decided afar two innings that the Cardinals were not just the best team of ’67, they were the best team I ‘d ever seen. The Sox would be swept.
Funny thing, though. Boston continued to patch things together, and the series went to seven games. If Longborg had been a bit better rested, Gibson less dominating, the Sox might very well have beaten those amazing Cards.
In the 70s and 80s, Boston had good teams, but not quite good enough. Yet the sixth game in 1975 was clearly one of the greatest games every played.
I know many of you are thinking, ‘So what? None of this stuff means much to me.”
Fifty years from now, however, you’ll have your own baseball stories to bore (or charm) younger folks. You can begin with the absolutely greatest, most unbelievable, most extraordinary piece of trivia in the whole baseball canon: the 2004 American League playoff, and, World Series.
Who hasn’t memorized it? Schlox, just the wild card team, were down three games-zip to the Yankees and just about to give up the ghost for the year, one run behind the Yankees…when Mariano Rivera walked Kevin Millar the leadoff hitter of the ninth inning. Dave Roberts sent in to run for him, STOLE second, something the Red Sox rarely do. Then, Bill Mueller singled Roberts home, and the game went into extra innings. Then David Ortiz hit a two-run homer in the 12th…[After rounding out the epic, Ms. Fisher concluded] I envy you kids. (Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs, May 2008).

The complete set of Sue Fischer’s baseball reviews will be available on a special section of Denebola’s website, www.denenbolaonline.net.

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