I’m fairly certain that some guys got into the big leagues because management thought they would remind the others of their fathers and therefore those other, much more talented players would think twice before reenacting Ball Four for fear that Dad wouldn’t approve. I think that Mike Fischlin falls into this category. He isn't especially good-looking, nor does he look like he was an alternate for a Newport Lights billboard (unlike this Topps glossy send-away card of the immortal Larry Sheets, who if I remember correctly, had a couple of powerhouse years in old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore then quietly retired to pursue his modeling career. I think he may have even been a mild success, appearing in a random Boscov’s Sunday circular (which he used as the photo for his annual Christmas card)). Fischlin looks more like your dad or your friend’s dad, always there with a piece of advice that somehow always relates back to walloping a bully or, if you’re a girl, waiting until you’re married. He’s the guy who waits for you in the mall parking lot, listening to the game on AM, the guy who quietly defers when your mom is pissed and is out there trimming the hedge when you wake up late on a summery Saturday morning, or, if not your father, then he’s the one you can’t get around when you just want to get to the often hard-to-find sports biography section of a used bookstore, the guy who’s usually clutching the last copy of Nice Guys Finish Last with the tattered dust jacket that you’ve been searching for for months.
On the other side of this spectrum are guys like Joe Nolan, Jerry Garvin and John Montefusco. Nolan may really look like your freshman year roommate. You know, the guy who wore that tie-dyed shirt and really opened your eyes to Zeppelin and was always talking about Marxism, but he could also have definitely been the one who didn’t like swimming in the lake at camp. Garvin looks like he wandered too far away from the bus at a rest stop on his way from LA to New York, accidentally bumping into an enterprising scout for the Blue Jays who thought to himself, “You know, we’re not going to really get anything out of Dave Stieb for another seven years or so…hmmm…I’m going to go ahead and say that no one will notice that that washed-up blond guy from Grease will be our number three starter this year. And if they do notice…hell, more ticket sales at Exhibition Stadium.” Montefusco looks like the kid a few grades ahead that not even your crazy older brother would hang out with, the kind of guy who seemed really psychotic thanks to growing his hair long, smoking out behind the strip mall and standing outside the high school by the teacher’s parking lot in his ripped jeans and leather jacket, just kicking up dust, smoking butts and talking with friends who still thought he was the coolest for dropping out. (John Montefusco, in all actuality, was a pretty decent starter for the Giants in the late Seventies and early Eighties (he was an All Star in 1976). Baseball Reference even says his statistics are similar to Gene Conley’s—though I don’t know if that includes Conley’s career in the NBA.)
And what’s up with Steve Lake? He doesn’t fit into either of the categories above, but into a third category that might be reserved for just him and Craig Biggio: Grown Men That Not Only Look Like But Might Actually Be Children. Now let’s get something straight right away: you don’t have to read Bill James to know that Craig Biggio is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But that doesn’t negate the fact that he could actually be a child. Steve Lake, on the other hand, is probably not going to the Hall of Fame (unless he visits with his family, or is enshrined in a special wing for Players Who Turned Out To Be Ingenious Criminals Stopped Before Their Crimes Could Be Appreciated By History For Their Ingenious-ness, thanks to his formulating—with a bunch of models and Charles Grodin—a hare-brained scheme to steal the Baseball Diamond from a well-protected Museum in London, only to be thwarted at the last minute by an unlikely bunch of rag-tag frogs, chickens, pigs and bears; and yes, that is the plot to The Great Muppet Caper).
But Lake could very well be a child. He looks he just caught a fish, raising his excited, shaking hand firmly wrapped around the wet, flopping fish, holding it up while his dad, (probably someone who looked like Paul Reuschel, out fishing with his kid instead of re-reading Only The Ball Was White, Robert Peterson’s fantastic oral history collection about the Negro Leagues (which does indeed warrant re-reading every few years, just to remind yourself what could’ve been if only teams like the Red Sox, led by the admirable but narrow-minded Tom Yawkey, could’ve pushed to push the color line sooner)) fumbled with the lens cap on his 35mm camera he bought years ago in an ill-fated romantic effort to be more bohemian. But I know what you’re thinking: it’s easy to attack someone by just looking at one card. That’s why I invite you to look at his 1991 Studio card, the one with his gigantic white plumed cockatoo perched on his shoulder. That pretty much cements, for me anyway, that he could very well be either an ingenious criminal, nemesis to crime fighters everywhere, or a child.