Baseball 101 – Carlton Fisk

The 1973 Red Sox had a record of 89-73. They finished second to the Orioles. But, it was the beginning of my fandom with the Sox. Carlton Fisk and Dwight Evans became mainstays in the Sox lineup and Luis Tiant and Bill Lee would be the same in the starting rotation.

In 1973 the highest paid player on the Red Sox was Carl Yastrzemski at $166,667.00. Hard to believe that the major league minimum salary is now $500,000, not mention the fact that Clayton Kershaw just signed a deal that pays him a tad north of $30 million per year. Baseball has come a long way. The players make more and the owners have billions in revenue. But, back in 1973, salary arbitration and the explosion of salaries was still just a glint in Marvin Miller’s eye.

Lets talk Carlton Fisk for a bit.

fisk_carlton

He is most famous for his 1975 World Series, game 6, walk off homer in the bottom of the twelfth inning at 12:33 a.m. I know my daughter has probably not seen it, so here it is.

Carlton Fisk was born the day after Christmas 1947 in Bellows Falls, Vermont. Fisk though grew up across the state line in Charlestown, New Hampshire. When Fisk was enshrined in the Hall of Fame, his plaque originally stated that he was raised in Vermont. Fisk made them change the plaque to New Hampshire. I think that’s a funny and interesting little tidbit. Fisk wanted no confusion about where his affiliations lay. A resident of either of those states would not want to be confused with a resident of the other.

Fisk was the second of four boys – Calvin, Conrad and Cedric. He also had two sisters – Janet and June. I always wonder how parents go about naming their kids. I’m guessing since his father was named Cecil, they figured to continue with the “C” tradition. I don’t know where the “J” affiliation came from since his mother’s name was Leona.

As a youngster Carlton was a chubby fellow, thus, he was penned with the nickname Pudge. Funny how nicknames stick over the years. Fisk was forever after known as Pudge. I wonder if he grandkids call him Pudge. Grandpa Pudge? Grandpudge? Grandpudgie? Despite his chubby demeanor, Fisk was a great athlete. He played baseball and basketball. In his senior year in the New Hampshire Class M semifinals, the 6’2″ Fisk, playing against players as tall as 6’10” and 6’8″, scored 42 points and hauled in 39 rebounds. Yeah, that’s right, 39 rebounds. Incredible.

Fisk went off to UNH in 1965 on a basketball scholarship. Fisk’s older brother, Calvin, was the captain of the UNH soccer team. Yet, Calvin was a good enough athlete to be drafted by the Orioles. Unfortunately, he was also drafted into the army and went to Vietnam. By the time he returned to the states at the age of 25, the Orioles decided Calvin was too old to start a career as a professional ball player.

Carlton played baseball and basketball at UNH and was drafted by the Red Sox in 1967. I can’t even imagine an athlete these days playing two sports. I’m sure some do it but most guys with aspirations of a professional career do not play two sports. There is too much money at stake to not give your best sport all of your time. I don’t know if that is sad or not. I don’t expect some computer programmer to only do that part time and something else for another part of the year.

Fisk started the 1972 season as the third string catcher for the Red Sox. The starting catcher that year, Duane Josephson, got hurt in just the third game of the season. The backup, Bob Montgomery, took over, but after teams stole bases wily nily on Montgomery, the Sox replaced him with Fisk. Kind of like a Wally Pip story. For those of you who don’t know, Wally Pip was the starting firstbaseman for the Yankees. One day in 1925, as the story goes, he came to a game and complained of a headache. The manager told him to take the day off, “We’ll try that kid Gehrig.” Gehrig went on from that game to set the consecutive game streak of 2,130 (this was eventually broken by Cal Ripken, Jr.).

As a rookie, Fisk made the All-Star team and batted .293 with 22 homers. Quite a debut. In the history of the game, only six catchers hit more then 20 homers in their debut season.

  1. Mike Piazza, 24 years old, 35 HR in 1993, ROY
  2. Rudy York, 23 years old, 35 HR in 1937
  3. Earl Williams, 22 years old, 33 HR in 1971, ROY
  4. Mat Nokes, 23 years old, 32 HR in 1987
  5. Wilin Rosario, 23 years old, 28 HR in 2012
  6. Carlton Fisk, 24 years old, 22 HR in 1972, ROY

1973 was a tough year for Pudge. He slumped badly in the second half of the season and ended up only hitting .246/.309/.441 but still slugging 26 homers. In 1974, Pudge tore knee ligaments while protecting the plate during a game in Cleveland on June 28th. He would not return until June 23rd of the 1975 season. In 79 games that year, Fisk hit .331/.395/.529 with 10 homers and was a catalyst for the Red Sox World Series run and his eventually arm flapping immortality.

Fisk would probably have spent his entire career, like Yaz with the Sox but for one of the biggest blunders of all time. The general manager of the Red Sox, Haywood Sullivan, forgot to mail Fisk his 1981 year contract by the required date. This made Fisk a free agent. The Sox offered Fisk a $2 million contract with some incentives. The White Sox, seeking to make a splash, offered Fisk $3.5 million. It was a tough call for Fisk, but the Sox made it easier by trading away Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson to the Angels that winter. Fisk went with the White Sox and ended up playing for them for thirteen years, two more then he played with the Red Sox. Fisk would end up catching 2,226 games behind the plate. A record for catchers.

The Sox retired Fisk’s number, 27, in 2000. There was some controversy over that. For some time, the Sox had said that they would only retire a player’s number if that player was in the Hall, spent at least 10 years with the team, and finished his career in Boston. Later in 2000, Fisk would fit the first two criteria, but not the third. The Red Sox allegedly “fixed” that by hiring Fisk as a special assistant in 2000. Most importantly though, Fisk went into the Hall of Fame in 2000. He wore a Red Sox cap.

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One thought on “Baseball 101 – Carlton Fisk

  1. Marc Ducharme

    I have this recollection that when Fisk played his first full season that he butted heads with the then captain, Yaz for not hustling or being team player, something like that. At the time, I was still an ex-Senators’ fan, caught in the sink hole of the Texas Rangers. I even subscribed for two years to a monthly publication entitled, “Ranger Roundup”. And yet, living in Rhode Island, I watched lots of Sox games on I think channel 38 so in a weird way I was also a closet Sox fan, of course, my dad was and is a life long Sox fan and that helped some too. My point being, I remember when Fisk first came up and I sensed something different about him, about the team when he was on the field. He was big presence on the field physically but also psychologically. He was intriguing to watch, all of the time. He was one player that I rooted for his entire career and later felt threatened when the nickname “Pudge” was given to another future Hall of famer in I-Rod. There’s only one “Pudge” in my book, and that’s Carlton.

    Reply

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