There were two things he always noticed, Carlton Fisk said, when he played at Fenway Park.
The Jimmy Fund sign, and the retired numbers of Red Sox greats.
“I can remember when there was nothing else in this ballpark, except the Jimmy Fund sign and those numbers,” the Hall of Fame catcher said yesterday. “That’s all there was to look at. Never in a million years do you think your number is going to go up there with those guys.
“A million years went by quick.”
Yesterday afternoon, Fisk’s No. 27 joined the numbers of Bobby Doerr (1), Joe Cronin (4), Carl Yastrzemski (8), and Ted Williams (9) on the facing of the right-field roof, a place reserved for the most select of Red Sox ballplayers. That combination, 1-4-8-9-27, undoubtedly will appear on lottery tickets throughout a six-state region this week.
“This big old handsome, methodical, fiery, Yankee New Englander,” as Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette called him, was honored in a pregame ceremony that brought Fisk onto the field from behind the center-field wall to the dramatic strains of “Fanfare for the Common Man” by composer Aaron Copland.
Instead of proceeding directly to the podium set up behind second base by groundskeeper Joe Mooney, Fisk took a detour and made his way along the right-field grandstand railing, slapping hands with spectators, until he reached the first-base dugout, where Sox players, including native New Englanders Rico Brogna and Lou Merloni, stood and applauded.
Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek would later wear his socks with the stripes showing in imitation of Fisk, a 10-time All-Star who played 2,236 games, a record for a catcher, 1,078 of those with the Sox. The Chicago White Sox, the team with which he finished his career, already have retired his No. 72.
Fisk stood in front of the dugout, facing the crowd, and patted his heart in appreciation.
“You don’t get a chance to see too many of those people in the outfield,” Fisk said. “The dugout-to-dugout fans, I doubt they’re probably the same people, but I used to call the people behind home plate my people.”
Fisk’s family, including his parents, Cecil and Leona; his wife, Linda; his daughters, Carlyn and Courtney; and his son, Casey, all occupied seats of honor, along with Red Sox CEO John Harrington, Duquette, and Carl Yastrzemski, Fisk’s Hall of Fame teammate.
“He played the game the right way,” Yastrzemski, his hair dyed black, said in his speech, “both behind the plate and at the plate.”
Harrington’s voice thickened with emotion as he invoked the names of Tom and Jean Yawkey, the former Sox owner and his wife. It was after the death of Tom Yawkey that Fisk left the Red Sox under bitter circumstances, signing as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox.
“The ‘70s were a time of turmoil and turnover,” Fisk would say later at a press conference. “Mr. Yawkey died. If there was one person I wish could be here, it was him.”
Hall of Famer Ted Williams also was not present, but during the ceremony he called the ballpark. Among those who attended were former teammates Rico Petrocelli and Dwight Evans and former hitting coach Walt Hriniak. Red Sox batting coach Jim Rice and broadcaster Jerry Remy also played with Fisk.
The ceremony, which featured a video compilation of Fisk in action, culminating with his 1975 World Series home run off the left-field foul pole, was noticeable for a blatant commercial tie-in. On either side of the podium, there were placards bearing the logos of the Red Sox and a credit-card company. The credit-card logo also was displayed prominently on the backdrop for Fisk’s press conference.
Fisk, who was gently teased for the length of his speech at Cooperstown in July, kept his remarks brief yesterday, speaking for six minutes.
“The roots of New England were with me every step of the way,” Fisk said. “I hope I can be an inspiration to other New England, New Hampshire boys and young men.”
When he was finished, two pitchers of distinction emerged from the Sox dugout. One was Pedro Martinez, who headed toward the bullpen to warm up for his start. The other was Luis Tiant, Fisk’s favorite pitcher, who retreated behind the plate to receive the ceremonial first pitch.
“They couldn’t find a chest protector big enough to fit him,” Fisk joked afterward. “What a reversal of positions that was. I said, `What are you doing kneeling down? Squat down.’ He said, `No way.’ “
The two men warmly embraced. Then, to the sounds of Tina Turner belting out “Simply the Best,” Fisk strolled past the visitors’ dugout, where Mariners coach Larry Bowa, veteran outfielder Rickey Henderson, and current star Alex Rodriguez were among those who shook his hand. Eventually, he made his way out to left field, where he held the framed plaque of his number, then reached up and patted the foul pole with which he will forever be linked. Asked later if he would have dibs on the pole when Fenway is demolished to make way for a new ballpark, Fisk smiled.
“I’ll probably have dibs on parts of the rubble,” he said.
Some of the biggest cheers yesterday were reserved for the video footage that showed Fisk’s scraps with the Yankees, a ‘70s rivalry that he said would never again be matched in intensity. One of the scenes showed the fight Fisk had with Lou Piniella, the former Yankee outfielder who was here yesterday as manager of the Mariners.
Just before Fisk’s press conference and the start of the game, Piniella dashed from the visitors’ clubhouse to the Diamond Club to congratulate Fisk.
“I told him before the game that not too many players have two uniforms retired,” Piniella said. “It’s a great tribute to him. I think Thurman [Munson] would be happy. They had a great rivalry. He’d be very happy.”
Before he left, Fisk was asked what it was about being a New Englander that defined him as a person.
“Maybe all the intrinsic things you are when you are a New Englander,” he said. “Being stubborn helped you out more than it hurt you. Just being able to deal with obstacles and tough times when they presented themselves.
“You put up and deal with a lot of things. I never accepted a mediocre effort from myself.”
Fisk recalled a conversation he once had with Mace Brown, the former Sox pitcher who later became a coach, after an afternoon in which Fisk, still a minor leaguer, had labored for hours in the hot Florida sun.
“I looked like I had been in a war,” Fisk said. “Mace Brown, who was from South Carolina, said to me” - and here Fisk adopted Brown’s drawl - “ ‘Son, I want to tell you something. I know you had a tough day, but I want to tell you something my daddy told me when I was about your age. He said, “Son if you hadn’t wanted to work, you oughtn’t have hired out.” ’ ”
The fruits of Fisk’s labors can now be found on a plaque in Cooperstown, and on a rooftop on Yawkey Way.