Orleans County is located in western New York State on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. The Erie Canal bisects the county and was responsible for the growth of its villages. Although Buffalo and Rochester are less than an hour away by car, the area is primarily farming country, with apple and cherry trees greatly outnumbering its more than 40,000 residents. And in its 200-year history, Orleans County has produced only one major-league baseball player—left-handed pitcher Carl Fischer.
Charles William Fischer was born in the town of Ridgeway on November 5, 1905, the only child of Charles H. Fischer and his wife, Minnie, who had emigrated from Germany. Young Charles was nicknamed Carl to distinguish him from his father. When Carl was 3 years old, his family relocated to the village of Medina, where his father worked as a laborer.
Fischer attended Medina public schools and developed into such a talented baseball player that he was drafted as an eighth-grader to pitch for the high-school team. Fischer starred on the mound throughout high school, and as a junior was hurling for the local town ball team. His success prompted him to forgo a high-school diploma and start earning money by pitching in the area’s semipro leagues. There he caught the eye of another Medina resident, Ed “Bing” Cleary, an umpire in the International League who was visiting home. Cleary told Fischer to set his sights higher, and passed his name along to Jack Egan, who managed Scranton in the Class B New York-Pennsylvania League. Encouraged, Fischer wrote to George Stallings, manager of the Rochester club of the International League. Stallings placed Fischer with the Cambridge (Maryland) Canners of the Class D Eastern Shore League for the 1925 season. Fischer pitched well for Cambridge and Cleary continued to urge Egan to snag the youngster for his Scranton squad. Egan eventually took the advice, signing Fischer for the 1926 campaign.
Fischer quickly established himself as one of the best left-handers in the NYP League, fashioning a 7-1 record with a sparkling 2.15 ERA. After another solid season in the lower minors, the 22-year-old moved up to within one rung from the big leagues, hurling for Walter Johnson’s Newark Bears of the International League. In stark contrast to the mild-mannered Johnson, who was one of the game’s great control pitchers, Fischer’s fiery disposition and frequent wildness on the mound often led to trouble. Trying to harness them was one of Johnson’s more challenging jobs as manager. He met with moderate success, as Fischer finished the season with an 11-8 record, while walking nearly five batters a game.
The following season, Johnson returned to Washington to manage the Senators, leaving Fischer in Newark to work under another future Hall of Famer, manager Tris Speaker. Speaker used Fischer exclusively as a starter and gave him a longer leash than Johnson had. The hard-throwing southpaw responded by twirling 248 innings, winning 18 games and fanning a league-leading 198 batters. Fischer continued his big year by marrying Grace Reynolds of Middleport, New York, in the fall of 1929.
Despite the breakout campaign, Fischer again found himself back with the Bears for the 1930 season. Although he was not as effective as in the previous year, he showed enough that in mid-July the Senators outbid a number of other teams for his services. Team owner Clark Griffith gave Newark $20,000 and two players for the rights to the “Medina Mauler.” The deal reunited Fischer with Walter Johnson, who had recommended him to Griffith and was in his second season at the Nats’ helm. As he had in Newark, Johnson used Fischer in a swingman role, working him out of the bullpen and as a spot starter. Since the Senators were on the fringes of the pennant race, the newcomer saw limited action, taking the mound only eight times in his ten weeks with the Senators, who finished the American League campaign in second place.
Entering 1931, Washington was widely considered to have the strongest stable of pitchers in the league. Despite the stiff competition, Fischer headed north from spring training in Biloxi, Mississippi, on the Senators’ roster. Early in the season he was one of the team’s most effective pitchers and by mid-June sported a 7-1 record and the best winning percentage in the American League. Included in this span of games was an outing that Fischer considered the highlight of his career. In the first game of a May 30 doubleheader against the New York Yankees at Washington’s Griffith Stadium, Senators starter Sad Sam Jones began the ninth inning by giving up a home run to Tony Lazzeri and a single to Earl Combs. With nobody out and Washington clinging to a 3-2 lead, Johnson summoned Fischer from the bullpen to face the heart of the Bronx Bombers’ lineup. Fischer proceeded to strike out Sammy Byrd and Babe Ruth, and then coaxed Lou Gehrig to pop out to end the contest. Fischer claimed he got a $1,000 bonus for his game-saving act.
Fischer couldn’t maintain his performance over the rest of the campaign, but still finished with 13 wins against 9 losses while logging over 190 innings. After the season, The Sporting News named him as one of three pitchers on its 1931 All-Star Major Recruit Team, a predecessor to today’s All-Rookie Team.
Expectations were high for Fischer entering the 1932 season. However, he did not get off to a good start and there were whispers that he had lost his fastball. The Senators, widely expected to battle for the pennant, were thin on patience and in early June traded him to the St. Louis Browns for pitcher Dick Coffman. Things went even worse for Fischer in St. Louis. He finally revealed months afterward that he had lost 25 pounds over the course of the season due to “influenza and infected teeth.”1 That December the Browns pulled the neat trick of trading him back to Washington for … Dick Coffman! Fischer may not even have known he was property of the Senators again, as 24 hours later Griffith sent him to Detroit in a multiplayer deal.
After finishing one game above .500 in 1932, the Tigers headed into 1933 believing their offense would improve with the addition of Hank Greenberg, and that they were only a couple of quality starters away from being contenders. After trading longtime Bengal Earl Whitehill to Washington for Fischer and pitcher Firpo Marberry, manager Bucky Harris thought he had those starters. Harris had had his eye on Fischer for three seasons and said that the talented lefty was “due to deliver.”2
Fischer arrived at spring training back at his normal weight and in top shape after an offseason of hunting in the woods around his hometown. He followed up with the best year of his major-league career, throwing over 180 innings and ranking ninth in the league in ERA. But with Whitehill having a career year in the nation’s capital, the Senators won the pennant while Detroit finished in the second division, prompting Harris to resign. The Detroit newspapers and Tigers management focused on Fischer’s 11-15 record and considered him a disappointment.
During the offseason Tigers owner Frank Navin purchased star catcher Mickey Cochrane from the Philadelphia Athletics for $100,000 and assigned him double duty, installing him as player-manager. Cochrane had no allegiance to Fischer and, as his batterymate, may not have appreciated the left-hander’s flashes of temper on the mound. Whatever the reason, Fischer pitched infrequently during Detroit’s pennant-winning 1934 season, appearing in only 20 games. Though placed on the World Series roster, Fischer didn’t see action in the fall classic, which the Tigers lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang.
Although there were rumors that he would be released, Fischer was in Tigers flannels for Opening Day 1935. Three weeks later the rumors came to pass, and he was sold to the Chicago White Sox for $4,000. Afterward, sportswriter Dan Daniel summed up the general feeling around the league about Fischer: “If you look at this Fischer, big and strong, then watch him warm up—fast ball, curve ball (sic) and everything—you say, ‘Here is a hurler which is another Grove.’ But when you examine the guy’s record, you say, ‘It must be his disposition.’” 3
White Sox player-manager Jimmy Dykes gave Fischer a new beginning, immediately inserting him into the starting rotation. After six starts, in which he posted a 1-3 record with a 7.28 ERA, Fischer was sent to the bullpen. Overall, the portsider’s stint in the South Side was forgettable—with one glorious exception. Starting against the Senators on July 20 at Griffith Stadium, Fischer took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before Ossie Bluege singled to center field with one out. Fischer retired the next two batters, finishing off the 1-0 whitewashing.
When the season ended, the White Sox demoted the struggling 30-year-old to their Kansas City affiliate in the American Association. Fischer fared poorly with Kansas City and then St. Paul, causing Chicago to sell him to Buffalo of the International League in June 1936. Perhaps inspired by the home cooking, Fischer did an about-face. In four months with the Bisons, he fashioned a 13-2 record and led the team to the Junior World Series with a 15-strikeout performance in the playoffs. Suddenly, the Mauler was a hot commodity again, and the Cleveland Indians’ sizable bid of $10,000 secured his services for the 1937 campaign.
With the Tribe, Fischer and manager Steve O’Neill never saw eye-to-eye. Fischer didn’t think O’Neill knew how to handle a pitching staff, and the skipper’s plan to have his starters start only once a week merely confirmed his thinking. Relegated to the back of the bullpen, Fischer was called on just twice in the opening three weeks of the season. While facing his second hitter in his second appearance, he allowed the Yankees’ Tony Lazzeri to steal third base. O’Neill charged from the dugout, yanked him from the game and told him he was through in Cleveland. The next day Fischer was handed his walking papers.
The Senators, who were without a left-handed starter, claimed Fischer off waivers almost before he could clean out his locker. Bucky Harris was now managing Washington and Fischer had turned in his best bigleague season under Harris in Detroit. Over the next two months, Fischer seemed to solidify his roster spot with some good outings. However, when Washington traveled to Cleveland in mid-July, an incident involving O’Neill turned things sour. After one of the games, the loquacious Fischer lobbed a wisecrack in O’Neill’s direction. Not amused, O’Neill offered to knock his head off and had to be pulled away by Washington players. It proved to be Fischer’s final act in the majors when a few days later he was sold to Baltimore of the International League.
For the next 3½ years, pitching for Baltimore and then Toronto, Fischer was one of the better left-handers in the league. This included a 2.53 ERA (second-best in the league) in 206 innings toiling for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1940. However, in his return trip north of the border in 1941, his ERA more than doubled and he went 0-17 (!) for a club that finished 47-107 and 53 games out of first place. At the age of 36, with diminished velocity and coming off one of the most miserable seasons imaginable, it looked for all the world as though the curtain had dropped on Carl Fischer’s professional baseball career. But on December 7, 1941, the world changed.
War requires able-bodied young men, and Organized Baseball was not spared the call when the US entered World War II. Scrambling for pitching, the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League acquired Fischer in a footnote trade with Toronto in January 1942. As they had always done, Carl and Grace set off in their automobile and drove to the next stop in their baseball odyssey, which this time was almost 3,000 miles from their Medina home.
Seattle manager Bill Skiff was considered a keen judge of pitching talent, and his belief that Fischer still had something left in the tank was quickly shown to be correct. The southpaw sparkled in spring training and became a mainstay in the Rainiers’ starting rotation. The team won its third consecutive Governor’s Cup in 1942, with Fischer the pitching star of the playoff run.
In December 1942 Fischer, married but with no children, was classified 1-A by his draft board and was ordered to report for service. His stay in the Army was brief, though, as he was honorably discharged in May 1943 because his legs couldn’t handle the rigors of marching. Back in Seattle for a full season in 1944, Fischer won 16 games and his 1.85 ERA was third-best in the PCL. Fischer rated Skiff, who caught in the minors over a span of 20 years, as the finest handler of pitchers he ever worked for, and won 56 games in the equivalent of four seasons under his watch. The wave of players returning after the war coincided with the disappearance of Fischer’s mound mastery in 1946. He played for two other minor-league clubs and even tried his hand at managing in 1947 before retiring from the game at age 41.
Returning to his western New York home, in 1949 Fischer opened Fischer’s News Room, a newspaper and tobacco shop, in the county seat, Albion. As of 2014 the business still operated under the same name. He was active in the local Elks Lodge and the American Legion, and was honorary president of the Little League Association.
Fischer never lost his thrill for the game, and made a yearly trip to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. He frequently visited Bill Skiff, who had become the Yankees’ head of Eastern scouting. The friends he made over the course of 20 years in professional baseball helped lure many of the game’s top stars to the annual Albion Knights of Columbus Sports Night, including Bob Feller, Denny McLain, and Hank Aaron.
Fischer died of a heart attack on December 10, 1963, at his home at the age of 58. He was buried at the Royalton Mount Ridge Cemetery near Gasport, New York. His wife, Grace, who was always by his side in his journeys, joined him 32 years later.
This biography is included in the book "Detroit the Unconquerable: The 1935 World Champion Tigers" (SABR, 2014), edited by Scott Ferkovich.
In researching this biography, the author relied heavily on The Sporting News historical archive accessed at paperofrecord.com, and Fischer’s clipping file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown.
Other important sources included:
Seattle Times Historical Archives, 1941-1946, via the Seattle Public Library online.
Undated and unsourced clippings from the Carl Fischer binder at the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, Medina, New York.