SARASOTA, Fla. A writer was talking to Ron Karkovice.
"The guy," observed the writer, nodding toward Carlton Fisk's cubicle next door, "might go on forever."
Karkovice, the other catcher, looked toward the cubicle, glanced for an instant at the ceiling, then back toward the cubicle. Then he spoke in a soft grumble.
"I know ..."
He is 43. He might go on forever.
How much longer? No one in baseball ducks a direct question better than Carlton Fisk. If there were a Hall of Fame for Excellence in Ducking, Carlton Fisk would be right there, just ahead of Warren Beatty.
"I don't think there's a definite answer to that, and I hope there's not a definite answer to that," he said. "Because once there's a definite answer, then there's a definite end. And I don't want to think about a definite end.
"Because once you think that way, then you're setting a limit. You have no way of extending your goals or of viewing your goals past a certain date."
He paused for a moment. The expression on his face turned from dead serious to impish.
L "So to answer your question: You know, I really don't know."
What is definite is Carlton Fisk, in a couple of weeks, will begin his 11th season as a member of the Chicago White Sox. In the history of the team, only Nellie Fox, Luke Appling, Ray Schalk, Eddie Collins, Ed Walsh, Billy Sullivan and Urban "Red" Faber wore the uniform longer. Five are in the Hall of Fame, and Fox should be.
Fisk will be.
Yet for many, the enduring vision of Carlton Fisk will be a home run he hit in 1975, wearing another uniform.
Stay fair. Stay fair. Stay fair. Yes. Yes ...
"I have the tape at home," Carlton Fisk said. "I've never watched the tape at home."
It was history, the home run that Fisk, then with the Red Sox, hit to beat Cincinnati in that World Series game. Fisk talks as if it were a blip. Surely, there are nights when, alone in a hotel room in Cleveland, he thinks about it. ...
"Never," he said. "I have never thought of that. The people who bring it up are the people who say, 'That was a great World Series. Boy, I remember you when you ... that was the greatest moment. ...'
"So many people get caught up in the past in this game, comparing and contrasting instead of appreciating what's going right now. This player and that player and this incident and that incident sure, they're all memorable moments within the game. But the players themselves don't think about those things. The only time you have a chance to dwell on what has happened, or maybe curl up in some cocoon of nostalgia, is immediately after the game. Immediately after the game maybe for 10 minutes, maybe for two or three hours.
"And then, once I get done in the weight room or once I get home, I've got to get some rest. I've got to play tomorrow.
"If you think about what happened yesterday, you're 0 for 4 today before you blink an eye."
What happened yesterday.
Last November, arthroscopic surgery on both knees. ... 1989, out 44 games with a broken hand. ... 1988, out 70 games with a broken hand. ... 1986, the wrist, the thumb, the virus. ... 1984, the abdominal muscle. ... 1979 ...
"Someday, I'd like to ..."
He stopped himself.
"I know everybody is familiar with a lot of things," Fisk said. "But as soon as you put together a team that performed last year and with the prospects of what's going to happen this year, nobody wants to hear it. Nobody wants to sympathize.
"And nobody appreciates the size of those obstacles you had to deal with and overcome to be here when everybody's having such a good time."
Carlton Fisk is having a good time. A couple of years ago, he thought those were over. The White Sox were terrible for much of 1989. Then they traded Harold Baines. A remnant of quality was gone, sent to glorious Arlington, Texas, for a kid outfielder and a veteran shortstop who, maybe, could be reconverted to a second baseman and a teen-age pitching prospect named Alvarez.
"That's as down as I've ever been, when the situation involved another player," Fisk said. "As far as a team situation, yeah."
Bad times. Good times.
"You know what's going to be a good time? March 27th, we have a golf outing, and Jerry Reinsdorf has signed up to be in somebody's foursome. That's going to be a good time.
"For too long, he and the other people who run the club, the distance has been too great."
There is a distance between Carlton Fisk and most of the people his own clubhouse. Maybe between Carlton Fisk and most of the people in every clubhouse in the game. Age has something to do with it, but not everything. Younger men can be blessed with a sense of history, of perspective. Few are.
He's a player, one of them, yet he sees them better than most of them see themselves.
"You have a bunch of young people who come in, that are good players or they wouldn't be here but that have no concept of why they're being treated the way they're being treated," Fisk said. "They don't know about the players that have preceded them. They don't know about the battles with ownership and battles with the players association.
"You get guys who come in that don't have a grasp of why they're making $100,000. Rickey Henderson has no clue why he's making $3 million.
"That's like, we're a free country, and it's not because of any efforts of the present generation. We're reaping the benefits of a generation that fought for those freedoms, that died for those freedoms. ..."
He comes off like a curmudgeon sometimes, particularly in print, but Fisk isn't Andy Rooney.
In truth, the distance between Carlton Fisk and the kids who surround him isn't so great at all.
It is, overall, a young team, the Chicago White Sox of 1991. The final 25 that head north, whichever 25, probably will average around 26 or 27 years old, even with Carlton Fisk bloating the total.
"I think it's a better team than we had last year," Fisk said. "Strange part about that is, even though it's a better team, we possibly might not win as many games. Because there are other teams that are better. A lot better.
"Our pitching staff is going to have to contribute. All of it. Not just the starters or the middle relievers or just 'Thiggy' (Bobby Thigpen)."
Is there a sense that, as the kids discover their talent, you're watching them grow up?
"It's hard to perceive them as growing up," said Fisk, "when I don't know if I've grown up, and I've been around the game a long, long time.
"I think you grow within the game. You mature in your ability to cope, your ability to prepare, your ability to succeed. You grow up and mature in that respect.
"But God forbid they ever grow up while they're playing this game. ..."
He won't go on forever. Even Ron Karkovice knows that.
Not so many years from now, Scott Radinsky will be 27 and Melido Perez will be 29 and Greg Hibbard will be 30. They will have matured in their ability to cope and prepare and succeed, and they'll be succeeding without Carlton Fisk.
Fisk looked across the clubhouse, which, at that moment, was empty and unusually silent.
"I'll be here," Carlton Fisk said. "I may not be dressing in the same locker room, but whether they realize it or not, I'll be here.
"Helping 'em along."