BALTIMORE -- Call it the last stand of the dinosaurs. We may never see the like again, in any pro sport. So relish it.

On Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium, 42-year-old Carlton Fisk of the Chicago White Sox took 22-year-old multisport multimillionaire Deion "Prime Time" Sanders of the New York Yankees to the woodshed for not running out a popup. And he did it in front of 24,142 witnesses.

Fisk said he blew his stack (causing a bench-clearing fracas) so Lou Gehrig could "stop spinning in his grave." He did it to honor what the Yankees once were. And to take a stand against what they, and many in sports, have become -- a carnival of slipshod me-firsters. Fisk says, laughing, that he also did it for "truth, justice and the American way." You wonder if he's kidding.

Fisk is profoundly anachronistic and proud of it. He's out of step with the times. And the times better watch out. It's not just that he's played in the majors in four decades or that he's caught 1,990 games, the most in American League history. It's not just that he stays at the park every night to lift weights for an hour and a half after the game. It isn't even that his starchy New England upbringing makes him seem like an endangered species of player.

Perhaps what sets Fisk apart is his antiquated notion that baseball is a calling, not just a silly game. Like a soldier, a cop, a priest, he reveres his forebears and is delighted to think he's worthy of them. What was good enough for Rogers Hornsby and Willie Mays is good enough for him. He knows how hard one game of baseball, properly played, can be, much less maintaining that high standard for 20 years.

In the third inning Tuesday, Sanders violated Fisk's idea of what sport should be. Sanders has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, largely because of the way he returns kicks for the Atlanta Falcons, but partly because of his gift for selling himself with flashy jewelry and bragging quotes.

When Sanders popped up, he walked toward first base, then strolled to the Yankees' dugout before the ball was caught. Imagine his surprise when there, behind him, bellowing, was the mammoth Fisk, who could bench-press two of Neon Deion.

"Run it out, you piece of crud," ordered Fisk, who's in his 21st season, to Sanders, who hasn't yet played in 21 big league games. "Go on, run it out."

Sanders was nonplused. Why would Fisk care if a player on another team didn't run out a popup? On his next at-bat, Sanders learned why.

Fisk stood and eyeballed him as he approached. Sanders muttered.

"What did you say?" asked Fisk.

"The days of slavery are over," said Sanders.

Normally, the introduction of a racial theme can alter the course of a debate. Fisk, however, wanted to make sure Sanders understood the nature of his complaint. It was not racial, but aesthetic. If Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron could run out their popups, so could Sanders -- career average .234.

"Let me tell you something, you little {time-honored, but nonracial baseball epithet}," said Fisk. "There is a right way and a wrong way to play this game. You're playing it the wrong way. And the rest of us don't like it. Someday you're going to get this game shoved right down your throat."

The home plate umpire leaped between the two men. Both clubs ran onto the field. And everybody waltzed. After the game, Fisk refused to comment. But Wednesday in Baltimore he recreated the event.

Sanders has explained that his hero is Rickey Henderson and he wants to play in the same extroverted style. Beyond that, Sanders has not commented. "Rickey has earned the right to be animated," said Fisk. "This guy hasn't. Maybe this will do him a favor and wake him up."

The night after their contretemps, Sanders hit a home run and drove in three runs against the Twins. Fisk got the game-winning hit against the Orioles.

Until the day he retires, which may not be any time soon, Fisk intends to continue to be a daily example of the way he thinks his game should be lived. "You can't measure everything he brings to our team," says Chicago Manager Jeff Torborg, whose White Sox have the majors' youngest roster, yet also took the third-best record into Thursday night's game. "He's just as productive as he's ever been . . . He might do some things better now than in his days with the Red Sox."

Over the past two seasons, since he became 40, Fisk has hit 32 homers and driven in 118 runs in 628 at-bats -- close to Jose Canseco ratios. Now that Fisk has had a metal plate inserted in his hand -- broken in the same place in '88 and '89 -- he sees no reason he can't play every day. He hit .293 last year. This year, right around .290. Both his homers have been dramatic game winners this month. The old man's done this despite a three-week sinus infection that's cost him 10 pounds. Of course, Fisk hasn't missed a game.

When the Red Sox let Fisk escape after the '80 season, he was 33 -- an age at which almost every great offensive catcher has been, basically, washed up. This month Fisk played his 1,079th game as a White Sox, passing his Boston total. He's actually had more home runs (176-162) and RBI (616-568) as a White Sox -- and in the same number of at-bats.

Hitting well is the best revenge.

The highest compliment to Fisk is this: He can finally be compared to Johnny Bench without embarrassment. Both were born the same month. Yet Bench retired seven years ago! He's been in the Hall of Fame for two years. Now, their career stats are a shock. In 7,658 at-bats, Bench hit .267 with 2,078 runs produced. In 7,720 at-bats, Fisk has batted .271 with 2,009 runs produced.

Can they really be that close?

When Bench retired, he was assumed to be incomparably better.

This summer, Fisk may break Bench's all-time record for home runs by a catcher (327). Fisk needs 11. If he does, many will assume that Fisk just outlasted Bench. That's true. But it's also true that Fisk, signed for 1991, is just about as good as he ever was.

Look at all the skills -- hit, hit with power, throw, field and run. No catcher does any of them significantly better than Fisk at 42. Put them all together and the conclusion is stunning. If he can stay healthy, Fisk may prove he's still the best in the game.

Amazing what lifting weights until 1 a.m., and running out popups, can do.