The day Deion Sanders and Carlton Fisk got into a dispute at Yankee Stadium
It was ‘Prime Time’ vs. ‘The Commander’ when the Yankees’ leadoff hitter failed to run out a popup
If ever there was a situation in which opposites didn’t attract, it was May 22, 1990, when New York Yankees leadoff hitter Deion Sanders, aka “Neon Deion” or “Prime Time,” came into close quarters with Chicago White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, the defender of the old order.
To understand why the situation turned so combustible at Yankee Stadium, one must understand the two men in the middle of the altercation.
Despite his .100 batting average, Sanders attracted a lot of media attention. The fifth overall selection in the 1989 NFL draft had signed a 4-year, $4 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, made the Yankees’ Opening Day roster in 1990 and became one of the first in the majors to wear his own brand.
Fisk, aka “The Commander” or “Pudge,” was entering his fourth decade as a player. He also spent the first part of his career with the Boston Red Sox, so there was absolutely no love lost playing against the team from the Bronx.
When Fisk saw Sanders draw a dollar sign in the dirt to lead off the Yankees in the bottom of the first, he knew he was in for a long day.
But it was the third inning when things really got on and popping. Sanders sent a popup high in the air, and instead of running the play out, he took several paces up the first-base line, halted his steps, checked out the ball and moseyed back to the dugout.
Watching that sequence was just too much for Fisk, and he barked at Sanders, “Run the f—ing ball out, you piece of s—!” Sanders didn’t acknowledge the demand.
In Sanders’ third at-bat, all appeared to be fine as he drew his signature dollar sign and disregarded Fisk’s mean mug when he approached the plate. Sanders wouldn’t even make eye contact.
But then Sanders made a comment under his breath, which drew the ire of Fisk, who retorted, “What did you say?”
Still without looking up, Sanders said with a little more bass in his voice, “Hey, man, the days of slavery are over.”
Fisk stood up and removed his mask so quickly that in one fell swoop, he was standing nose to nose with Sanders.
“I don’t care whether you are black or blue or pink or red,” Fisk said. “If you don’t start playing this game right, I’m going to kick your butt right here.”
Both benches cleared, but neither group knew exactly what the hubbub was about. The umpire separated Sanders and Fisk and the game moved on.
When approached about it days later, Fisk expounded on what transpired: “There’s a right way and a wrong way to play this game. It’s the Yankees pride and the Yankees pinstripes involved here. Some of these guys have got to be turning over in their graves. I play for the other team, but that even offends me.”
Sanders, batting .158, left the Yankees that summer after the team ended contract negotiations.
Fisk ended his career three years later at age 45.