Bill Fischer, pitching coach who helped Red Sox win pennant, dies at 88
When the Red Sox hired John McNamara as manager in 1985, he asked his former pitching coach in Cincinnati, Bill Fischer, to join him.
“On the fundamentals of pitching, he’s one of the best I’ve ever come across,” McNamara told the Globe a year later when the Red Sox were on their way to the American League pennant.
Bruce Hurst, a pitching standout on that team, said he could still “picture Fish wearing an old catcher’s mitt and with a stogie in his mouth while we worked together” in the bullpen.
“He had a rough and gruff exterior and you had to earn your stripes with him, but deep down he was a beautiful person and one of the greatest human beings I ever met,” Hurst added.
Mr. Fischer, whose baseball career began in 1948 as a 17-year-old minor league pitcher, and who stayed in the game for the next seven decades, died of kidney failure Oct. 30 in Josie Harper hospice house in Omaha. He was 88 and lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
A senior pitching adviser for the Kansas City Royals at the time of his death, Mr. Fischer holds the Major League Baseball record of pitching 84⅓ consecutive innings without giving up a walk, while he was with the Kansas City Athletics in 1962.
Former Red Sox ace Roger Clemens said that he and Mr. Fischer had a father-son relationship.
“Fish helped so many of us while we were chasing our dreams to be great at the Major League level,” Clemens said in an e-mail. “I will miss this man. A big high-five to Fish for being one of the best at what he did and for an extraordinary baseball life.”
Mr. Fischer, who also had been a pitching coach for the Richmond Braves of the International League and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, stressed the importance of first-pitch strikes.
In 2008, Mr. Fischer told the Kansas City Star that the key to his job was to “help somebody every day. It may be just a couple of words. It might be a kick in the butt. . . . But you gotta do it.”
Al Nipper, who was coached by Mr. Fischer in Boston, and who is a former Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and Kansas City Royals pitching coach, said that “Fish gave me confidence. He understood people and what motivated them.”
Nipper added that Mr. Fischer “also had a great sense of humor.” Nipper said he usually didn’t pitch well in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, so once when a Red Sox flight arrived in Chicago, “Fish announces ‘Nip, there’s a limo waiting outside because the White Sox want to make sure you get to the park.’ ”
When Clemens, who had a cut on his pitching hand, was pulled by McNamara in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series after the seventh inning with the Red Sox leading, 3-2, a controversy arose because Clemens said he wanted to continue and McNamara said he did not.
Mr. Fischer was caught in the middle between a manager he respected and a pitcher he was close to. “I know that I’m the fall guy here, damned if I do, damned if I don’t,” he told the Globe in 1999. “But I’ll tell you, if I knew it would come to this, I’d have brought a tape recorder to that game.”
The Red Sox lost that “one strike away” game, also memorable because of Bill Buckner’s error, and then lost the Series.
Mr. Fischer stayed on as pitching coach for manager Joe Morgan after McNamara was fired during the 1988 season. The Red Sox advanced to the postseason in 1988 and 1990, but Morgan and Mr. Fischer were let go after the 1991 season.
“I leaned on Fish a lot and I always liked him and trusted him,” Morgan recalled.
A son of William Constantine Fischer and the former Grace Chizek, William Charles Fischer graduated from Marathon High School in Wisconsin in 1948, when he was signed by the White Sox and sent to its Wisconsin Rapids Class D team.
After his first major league win as a starter in May 1957, as a 26-year-old White Sox rookie against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, he told the Globe: “I’d like something like this every Sunday.”
Over nine seasons encompassing 281 games — 78 as a starter — Mr. Fischer had a 45-58 record and 4.34 earned run average. He pitched for five major league teams and spent 10 years in the minors, retiring in 1968.
Mr. Fischer served as a Marine drill sergeant in 1952 and 1953 and said it was “the only two-year contract I ever had in my life,” according to the Society for American Baseball Research.
On May 22, 1963, in the 11th inning at the old Yankee Stadium, New York slugger Mickey Mantle turned on Mr. Fischer’s fastball and launched what Mantle called “the hardest hit ball of my career,” off the very top of the right field façade, nearly hitting it out of the park.
Mantle wrote a note on a poster of that homer, humorously thanking Mr. Fischer for helping him get into the Hall of Fame. It was among Mr. Fischer’s many treasured mementos.
But he also had impressive outings. In one three-game stretch in 1959 with the Washington Senators, he shut out the Yankees for 10 innings and recorded complete game victories over Boston and Detroit.
When Mr. Fischer was about to enter hospice care, his stepdaughter, Melissa Nunley of Omaha, reached out to people in the baseball world.
“Baseball was in his blood, his heart and his soul, and he told all the old friends who called what a positive effect they had on his life,” Melissa said.
Former Boston pitcher Bob Stanley said their last conversation “was one of the hardest I ever had. Fish said, ‘Bobby how are you doing?’ And he thanked me for our time together. And I just said, ‘God bless you.’ Fish stuck with you through the good times and the bad.”
A celebration of Mr. Fischer’s life has been held, at which — by his request — Clemens, Nipper, former Royals and Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz, and current Royals general manager Dayton Moore spoke.
Mr. Fischer’s first marriage, to Joan Priebe, ended in divorce.
He married Val Hager in 1984.
In addition to Val and Melissa, Mr. Fischer leaves a son, Michael of Ocala, Fla., and two daughters, Patti Hamilton of Melbourne Beach, Fla., and Mary Jo Johnston of Bradenton, Fla., all from his first marriage; a stepson, Michael of Council Bluffs, Iowa; his brothers, Tom of West Bend, Wis., and Gary of Wausau, Wis; his sister, Rosemary Small of Seminole, Fla.; 10 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
In a eulogy, Melissa said that “Fenway Park was our home away from home, where we would spend time with our baseball family which was always there for us. Not because of anything we did, but because of how much they loved and respected our dad.”