Rediscover the amazing athletic legacy of Ray Lyle Fisher.
Born Oct. 4, 1887, Fisher pitched all or part of nine seasons in Major League Baseball. His debut game took place on July 2, 1910. His final game took place on Oct. 2, 1920. During his career he played for the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds.
Nicknamed "Pick" (short for the freshwater fish pickerel), Fisher was an all-around athlete who played football, basketball, and baseball- though his father only permitted sports if the farm work was done. He played on Vermont's 1904 State Championship football team and received multiple college scholarships in football, but his real love was baseball and he stayed on in his hometown attending Middlebury College.
After stellar performances on the college mound, he was offered a position pitching with a semi-pro team in Valleyfield, Quebec, in the summer of 1907. In 1908 and 1909 he pitched in the minor leagues for Hartford in the Connecticut League, going 12-1 in his first partial season (batting .304) and 25-4 the following year with 243 strikeouts. His contract was sold to the New York Highlanders (Yankees), and he reported there in 1910 following his graduation from Middlebury, bringing along- to the amusement of his new teammates- his homemade bat from off the farm.
Dubbed the "Vermont Schoolmaster" because he taught Latin during his first offseason, Ray pitched for New York from 1910–17, spending 1918 in the Army stationed at Fort Slocum off New Rochelle.
As a rookie, his ERA ranked fifth in the league in 1915. From 1911 to 1915, during the offseason, Fisher was employed as Middlebury College's first athletic director. Fisher pitched for the Reds in 1919 and 1920. He went 14-5 in 1919 and pitched Game 3 in the infamous 1919 World Series, a game in which the Reds were shut out by Chicago’s Dickie Kerr.
In the spring of 1920 the American and National Leagues agreed to outlaw use of the spitball, though 22 spitball pitchers were exempted from the ban for the season. The following year a permanent ban went into effect, with 17 pitchers grandfathered for the remainder of their pitching careers. Though he had largely discontinued use of the spitter by 1914, Fisher was one of those allowed to continue to use the pitch.
Fisher is known for being one of the few players to be reinstated into professional baseball after being banned for life.
Prior to the 1921 season, the Reds offered him a contract in which his salary was $1,000 less than that of the previous season. After making his objections known in a letter to Reds president August Herrmann, Fisher signed the contract. Before the season began, however, Fisher learned that the position of head baseball coach had again become available at the University of Michigan, a position for which he had belatedly applied the previous year on the recommendation of Branch Rickey. Fisher requested, and was apparently given by manager Pat Moran, permission to go and look into the job.
After Michigan's playing season was over, other teams began contacting Fisher, inquiring as to his availability to pitch, Rickey's St. Louis Cardinals among them. Fisher contacted the Reds for clarification on his status, noting that he realized they had first call on his services. He learned that he was being placed on the list of those ineligible to play, the Reds citing his having given them only seven days notice, rather than the required ten, prior to leaving the club. Fisher appealed to the commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the commissioner promised to look into the matter.
Following the determination of his ineligibility for leaving the Reds, Ray signed on with one of the outlaw teams, pitching only briefly for the Frankin, Pa., Oilers before the team folded.
In 1951 Ray was called to Washington, D.C., to testify about his blacklisting in a House Judiciary Committee investigation into the alleged monopoly of power in professional baseball.
Fisher remained head coach for the University of Michigan's baseball team for 38 seasons, also serving as freshman football coach and assistant basketball coach for a number of years. In 1923, Ray became Michigan's first coach in the 20th century to integrate a varsity sport.
During the 1940s he was hailed by Esquire magazine as a close second to Jack Barry of Holy Cross as the top college baseball coach in the country, and Fisher was generally regarded as one of the nation's premiere instructors of college pitchers.
By the time he retired in 1958, Fisher had compiled a 636-295-8 record with only two losing seasons, and he held the record as the University of Michigan's winningest coach for 70 years (1930–2000).
For five years during the 1960s Fisher coached pitchers for the farm teams of the Milwaukee Braves and the Detroit Tigers, and into his 80s Ray was still working with pitchers at the request of subsequent University of Michigan baseball coaches.
In the summer of 1982, Fisher was invited to the yearly Old Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium, his first visit to the famous facility which had been built after he'd left the team. Approaching age 95, he was then the oldest former Yankee, Cincinnati Red and World Series player. He received two standing ovations from the fans and threw out the opening pitch for that day's Yankees-Rangers game. He died Nov. 3, 1982 in Ann Arbor, Mich. and is buried in Washtenong Memorial Park.
In 2003, through the efforts of the Vermont chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, the State of Vermont placed a historic site marker near Fisher's birthplace, at the intersection of U.S. Route 7 (Court Street) and Creek Road in Middlebury, across from the offices of the Addison Eagle Newspaper.