Senin, 26 Maret 2012

Fond memories: Fisher, retired voice of Penn State, goes back a long way with Pirates

He met Honus Wagner and saw Babe Ruth hit his last home runs

By Lou Prato
The Altoona Mirror
March 18, 2012

Fran Fisher, Penn State football's radio announcer, gazes at Beaver Stadium from the Press Box. (Collegian Photo / Timothy Gyves)

STATE COLLEGE - Two of the most memorable days in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field were on October 13, 1960 when Bill Mazeroski hit his dramatic game-winning home run in the ninth inning of the 1960 World Series and on May 25, 1935 when the legendary Babe Ruth hit the last three home runs of his career.

There is at least one dedicated Pirate fan in the region who not only witnessed those immortal home runs in the now extinct Oakland ballpark, but he also met the equally legendary Honus Wagner during Pirate batting practice when Wagner was an honorary coach around 1930.

The fan may not be as famous as those three Hall of Famers, but he is also well known in his own right. After all, Fran Fisher was "The Voice of Penn State football" for nearly 40 years.

"I was raised as a Pirate fan by my dad," Fisher, now 88, said as he gears up for another Pirates' season. "My father, Homer, was a devout Pirate fan, and the company he worked for was a box holder at Forbes Field, and he used to take me to games. I met Honus Wagner, and it came about in an unusual way."

The Fisher family then lived in Dormont, and Homer Fisher had became a friend of pitcher Wilbur Cooper, the best Pirate pitcher of his era (1912-1926) and a teammate of Wagner's until Wagner's retirement in 1917.

Homer was a pioneer in the building and constructing of the Memorial Park concept - cemeteries without tombstones - and as sales manager of a local company, he hired Cooper to sell cemetery plots after Cooper retired.

Cooper, who is still the Pirates' winningest pitcher in history with a 216-178 record, invited Homer and his young son to watch a Pirate batting practice.

"I think I was around 6 or 7," Fisher said, "and Wilbur Cooper suggested to my father that since I had become such a fan, it might be enjoyable to me and my father if he would take me to the Pirate dugout before the game to watch batting practice and maybe get some autographs. Wilbur arranged that, and we went to a game and sat right next to the water cooler, as Wilbur had suggested, because when the players finished batting practice, they always wanted a drink of water.

"We got there very early and prior to the start of batting practice, this old, bowlegged guy comes waddling over to the dugout and tousled my head like a guy would do with a youngster. When he walked away, my dad said, 'Do you know who that is?' and I said no, and he told me it was Honus Wagner.

"He was an honorary coach then ... as a PR thing. I've read recently that the Pirates hired him as an official coach in 1933, and reportedly he helped players with their batting and fielding, pitched a little batting practice and did some other little things. But was really still there for public relations, and he did that until he died [in 1955]."

In 1935, Fran Fisher had another brush with greatness. Homer and his son were sitting a couple of rows behind the Pirates' dugout along the first-base line for the final game of a three-game series against the Boston Braves. Along with most of the 10,000 other fans that Saturday afternoon, the Fishers were there to see Babe Ruth, who had been traded by the New York Yankees to the Braves in February. By that time, the Fisher family had moved to Greensburg, where Homer had created and owned the new Westmoreland County Memorial Park.

Everyone in baseball, including the fans, knew the great home run king was close to the end of his playing career. His skills had deteriorated, and he could hardly do anything but hit and trot slowly around the field.

Ruth was batting just .157 in 20 games, and had hit just his third home run of the season in the Braves' previous game at Chicago when Boston opened a three-game series with the Pirates on May 23. The Braves were in last place with an 8-18 record and the Pirates in fifth at 16-17. Forbes Field could seat up to 41,000, but attendance at each of the three games was estimated at about 10,000.

Fisher was 12 at the time, and he witnessed history.

"I remember he hit one into the lower deck, dropped it right over the right field screen, hit the second one into the second deck, and then hit his third one over the roof and clear out of the ball park, the first of only four guys in history to hit one clear out of Forbes Field," Fisher said with excitement still in his voice after what he had witnessed 77 years ago. "Those were his final home runs - 712, 713 and 714. He played just five games after that until he retired completely."

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