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Fisk statue stands tall at U.S. Cellular

Fisk statue stands tall at U.S. Cellular

CHICAGO -- Carlton "Pudge" Fisk stands as a member in good standing of baseball's Hall of Fame, enshrined during the 2000 season. He was an 11-time American League All-Star, a winner of the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards and was the 1972 AL Rookie of the Year.

Fisk holds the Major League record for games caught (2,226) and ranks second in home runs by a catcher (351). In 1997, the White Sox retired his No. 72 jersey, featured prominently on the left-center field wall at U.S. Cellular Field, and he was named to the White Sox's All-Century team.

Yet, all of those awards, all of those accolades, even launching one of the most memorable home runs in World Series history, paled in comparison to the unveiling of his life-sized sculpture at U.S. Cellular prior to Sunday's series finale against the Mariners. When the black draping was pulled off, the work done by Lou Cella, a Chicago-based sculptor who took one year to complete the finished product, Fisk and his wife, Linda, were left almost speechless.

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They simply pointed in astonishment to the great detail used to capture "The Commander" in bronze, now permanently located near previous honorees Charles A. Comiskey and Minnie Minoso.

"This is the most spectacular and significant recognition that I have probably had in my life," said Fisk, speaking during the 30-minute ceremony, which led up to Fisk throwing out the first pitch to former White Sox Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell.

"It couldn't happen to a nicer guy," added Roland Hemond, an executive advisor to general manager Ken Williams, but also the general manager at the time when Fisk came to the White Sox. "He produced a lot of great memories for White Sox fans."

When Fisk "changed his Sox," as he quipped on Sunday, on March 10, 1981, the move not only had an impact on the catcher's life but also the franchise he joined. Hemond admitted that some doubts existed about Fisk's knees and throwing elbow and he only could guarantee club owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn three good years from one of the greatest backstops in the game.

Fisk ended up playing 13 seasons and 1,421 games for the White Sox, posting a .257 average with 214 home runs and 762 RBIs. But according to Reinsdorf, Fisk's addition gave the South Siders an overall presence in the game they previously lacked.

"I used to joke that under prior ownership, the White Sox were the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball. We didn't get any respect," said Reinsdorf after witnessing the ceremony on Sunday. "The signing of Carlton Fisk was a change in the whole respect given to the White Sox organization.

"People didn't expect us to sign him, and when we did, everything changed. All of a sudden we started selling out games and we were expected to win.

"It was almost a quarter of a century since he came here," Reinsdorf added. "That thought went through my mind, as did what happened to the last 24 years."

The relationship between Fisk and Reinsdorf has been depicted as somewhat icy over the past few years. But whatever issues existed previously seemed to have nicely thawed out in the present.

In fact, Fisk mentioned that Sunday's ceremonies would not have been possible without Reinsdorf's involvement. He added a brief analogy concerning all "great battles" over time usually being commemorated by a statue.

"I'm not remotely trying to equate this with the important statues of the world," said Fisk, referring to his past disagreement with Reinsdorf. "Maybe this is important to he and I."

Only Fisk and his son, Casey, spoke during the official ceremony. But Fisk's daughters, Carlyn and Courtney, also were in attendance, as were his four grandchildren (and one on the way), his 92-year-old father and his 86-year-old mother. There also were age-old friends in attendance, who came in from Florida for the proceedings, and a litany of former teammates.

Just moments after the ceremony officially began, manager Ozzie Guillen, bench coach Harold Baines and hitting coach Greg Walker quickly moved past the microphone stand, in full uniform, to hug Fisk. Guillen humorously asked before the game about the deliberate-working Fisk being on time for his honor and added a few more tales, including the memorable argument in front of home plate at Yankee Stadium, between Fisk and Deion Sanders, when Fisk felt Sanders wasn't running out fly balls as he should.

Guillen also spoke of a veteran catcher molding a young White Sox pitching staff into a successful unit in the late 1980s and early '90s. McDowell, one of those pitchers who developed under six years of Fisk's tutelage, said Sunday that it didn't take much to learn from the Hall of Famer.

"It wasn't so much a verbal thing," said McDowell of Fisk. "It was watching how he moved and how he called the game. You learned from him sitting behind the plate and saying, 'This is how you do it.' That's how I learned to pitch, period."

"He taught those guys how to survive and pitch at the big league level," Guillen added. "Just because of Pudge, those guys had a lot of success and made a lot of money."

The theme of family seemed to run throughout the day's events, something that Guillen has been preaching all year in regards to his 72-38 squad. Reinsdorf mentioned that more members from the White Sox family would be honored in bronze at a later date, although the chairman drew a big laugh by pointing out that even if the White Sox win the World Series in 2005, they would only want a statue of him for the pigeons.

Fisk's family was moved by the proceedings, as his extended family from the field and in the stands provided words of respect, encouragement and honor. Even Casey Fisk pointed out in his speech that most people remember Carlton Fisk as a great baseball player, but he really made his mark as a family man.

"The Carlton Fisk you didn't see was the dad who threw the football in the front yard, who shot baskets in the driveway and made a conscious decision to be at every important event for this family," Casey said. "He is a mushy and devoted grandfather of four and one on the way and a great, loving dad."

"In own mind, I feel I tried hard and played hard and respected the game and my teammates," the elder Fisk said. "You wonder how much of that is appreciated, but today is a perfect example of how much people notice and appreciate. It was spectacular."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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