October 4 – Happy Birthday Ray Fisher
The amazing thing about Ray Fisher’s Yankee pitching career was that as good as he was at getting Major League hitters out, it was instead his coaching and dedication to players at the collegiate level that serves as his most significant contribution to the game. He was the son of a Vermont farmer who became a star pitcher of his high school baseball team and a three sport athlete at Vermont’s Middlebury College. The Yankees took an interest in him wile he was pitching minor league ball in Hartford, CT and signed him just before the Red Sox made him a better offer.
Fisher made his debut as a New York Highlander on July 2, 1910 against the Chicago White Sox’ Hall of Fame pitcher, Ed Walsh. George Stallings, the New York Manager at the time later told Fisher he figured the Yankees had no chance of beating Walsh that day so he decided to throw his rookie and save his better pitchers for weaker match ups. Fisher ended up out-pitching Walsh and getting the 2-1 victory.
Fisher would spend the next eight seasons pitching for some very bad Highlander/Yankee teams and some pretty bad managers. His best year was 1915 when he went 18-11 with a 2.11 ERA. He signature pitch was a then legal spitball that he juiced with saliva and a piece of slippery elm bark he always chewed while working on the mound.
In 1917, he came down with pleurisy and then missed the entire next season when he was drafted into the Army for service during WWI. It was while he was in the military that the Yankees traded him to the Reds, who immediately lowered Fisher’s $6,500 Yankee salary by $3,000 for the upcoming 1919 season. Fisher had a great year for Cincinnati, going 14-5 and helping the Reds win the 1919 NL Pennant. They then went on to win the 1919 World Series against the White Sox, allegedly benefitting from the infamous Black Sox scandal, in which several White Sox players took money from gamblers to throw the Series. Poor Fisher still lost Game 3 of that forever-tainted Fall Classic.
In 1920, Major League Baseball banned the spitball, but Fisher was one of the hand full of pitchers exempted from the ban. The veteran right-hander went 10-11 that year and started thinking about finding a new career. He had a young daughter at home who he never got to see and his 33-year-old body was growing tired of the extensive traveling and stress of big league life. Compounding the problem was the penny pinching ways of the Reds front office. Fisher decided to accept an offer to manage the University of Michigan’s baseball team. He would remain in that position for the next 39 years and his Wolverine teams would compile a 661-292 record and win 14 Big Ten baseball titles and the 1953 National Championship..
His new job may have been in Michigan, but Ray Fisher’s heart never left Vermont. Every offseason he would return to his camp on Lake Champlain in the Green Mountain State. But instead of spending all his time fishing, Fisher would actually continue to pitch for local semipro teams in the area until he was well into his late forties. He also became manager of the Twin City Trojans of Vermont’s Northern League, and battled long and hard with the NCAA to permit college baseball players to earn some extra money by playing in summer leagues.
Ray Fisher died in 1982 at the age of 95. At the time, he had become the last surviving member of the old New York Highlanders. His record was 76-78 during his eight seasons in New York and 100-94 with a 2.81 ERA for his complete ten-season big league career. He shares his October 4th birthday with this long-time Yankee shortstop and coach.