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Fisk, Carlton

Carlton Fisk

1947-

American baseball player

The New England-born baseball player Carlton Fisk is one of the sport's most legendary catchers, having caught more games (2,226) than any other player in history. In his 11 seasons with the Boston Red Sox and 13 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Fisk set a major league record for the most home runs by a catcher (351). Fans remember one home run in particular: a 12th-inning, save-the-day homer that let the Red Sox win Game Six of the 1975 World Series. The 11-time All-Star player overcame several injuries during his lengthy career, including a knee injury that threatened to keep him on the sidelines permanently. Popular with fans and fellow teammates, Fisk won respect as a hardworking and devoted player and an extraordinarily well-conditioned athlete. In 2000, at age 52, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the 12th catcher enshrined in the famed Cooperstown, New York, museum.

Born in Vermont and raised in rural Charlestown, New Hampshire, Carlton Ernest Fisk was one of six children born to Cecil, a farmer and a machinist, and Leona, a homemaker. Both of his parents were athletesCecil was an all-around athlete and a powerhouse on the tennis court, while Leona held her own on men's softball teamsand all of his siblings played sports avidly. Fisk's first love was basketball, and he and his brothers often played pickup games in the hayloft of their grandfather's barn.

At Charlestown High School, Fisknicknamed "Pudge"was a tall, rugged athlete who dominated every sport, including basketball and baseball. When he graduated, major league baseball teams took notice, including the Baltimore Orioles, who made Fisk an offer to join the club in the 1965 draft. But the young athlete chose instead to attend the University of New Hampshire, which had awarded him a basketball scholarship.

Made Strong Red Sox Debut

Yet it was not basketball but baseball that beckoned Fisk in January 1967, when the Boston Red Sox, New England's beloved team, chose to draft him. Spending his first year in basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, Fisk did not receive his uniform until 1968. However, a second drafting, this time by the U.S. Army, which called Fisk to prepare for action in the Vietnam War, delayed his career another three years. During his time with a reserve unit in Chester, Vermont, Fisk was never called to combat. He later was grateful to the reserves for instilling in him the values of a team player. "I don't know if [the army] changed my attitude, my discipline, but it might have helped a little bit on the coachability end of it," Fisk told Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune. "Because of my talents, I was like a loose cannon on deck. I had all the firepower but no direction."

Making his first full-season debut in 1972, Fisk was off to a strong start, ending the season with 22 home runs and batting .293. He won both a Gold Glove and a Rookie of the Year award. Unfortunately, however, Fisk was prone to injuries. During spring training in 1974, he sustained a groin injury. And later that season, colliding with a runner at the plate, he faced a more serious, potentially career-ending knee injury. The surgeon who reconstructed his torn knee ligaments told Fisk that he might never be able play baseball again. Yet after nine weeks in a cast, through hard work and perseverance, Fisk recovered. To regain his strength, he lifted weights and ran in the mornings with the pastor from his family's New Hampshire church.

Rejoining the Red Sox in June of 1975, after one year on the sidelines, Fisk made a remarkable comeback. After helping his team take the American League pennant, Fisk performed phenomenally in the World Series games against the Cincinnati Reds. The powerful slugger hit a now-legendary 12th inning home run that allowed the Red Sox to clinch Game Six of the World Series, with a final score of 7-6. "The celebration of that moment has made me realize how popular baseball is and how it affects people's lives," Fisk told Larry White-side of the Boston Globe. "It's still the greatest moment in my career." (The team lost Game Seven, however, losing the title to the Reds.)

Fisk had another good year in 1977, ending the season with a .315 average and 26 home runs. Vying with the New York Yankees' Thurman Munson for recognition as the American League's best catcher, Fisk allowed only four passed balls that season. Yet that year and the following, the Yankees kept Boston from a pennant title. Some fans attributed the Red Sox's 1978 loss to a rib injury sustained by Fisk. The same injury left Fisk on the sidelines for several games during the 1979 season.

Chronology

1947 Born on December 26, 1947, in Bellows Falls, VT
1962-65 Dominates sports at Charlestown High School, in Charlestown, NH
1967 Drafted by Boston Red Sox
1968-71 Serves in army reserves in Chester, VT
1972 Debuts with Red Sox
1975 Hits famed 12th inning home run, letting Red Sox win Game Six of the World Series
1981 Signs five-year, $3 million contract with Chicago White Sox
1994 Retires after 24-year playing career

Awards and Accomplishments

1972 Won Golden Glove Award
1972 Named American League Rookie of the Year
1972-74, Named to the All-Star team
1976-82,
1985, 1991
2000 Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Fisk Extends the Series to Seven Games

Tuesday, October 21, 1975, Fenway Park

This World Series had it allgood pitching, terrific fielding plays, explosive offense and plenty of drama. Veteran writers proclaimed it one of the more exciting Series in memory. After five games Cincinnati's Big Red Machine held the edge over the Boston Red Sox three games to two, and their manager, Sparky Anderson, had every intention of ending the Fall Classic this night.

The Red Sox needed this game to stay alive, and in the opening frame they drew first blood. After two outs Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk singled. Rookie Fred Lynn then smashed a towering drive into right-center field that cleared the Boston bullpen and landed ten rows deep in the bleachers.

In the Cincinnati seventh, with two on and two out, George Foster doubled home a pair, giving the Reds their first lead at 5-3. Crowd noise was non-existent, especially after Cesar Geronimo led off the visitor's eighth with a home run. The round-tripper spelled the end for Tiant, who left to a standing ovation, but trailing 6-3.

Pat Darcy, who had taken the mound for Cincinnati in the 10th, had retired six straight Red Sox. But leading off the home 12th was Fisk. On a 1-0 pitch the catcher lofted a towering drive deep to left as more than 35,000 pairs of eyes strained to see if it would stay fair. Amid a deafening roar Fisk waved the ball fair as it slammed high off the foul pole and gave Boston one of the most dramatic victories in World Series history.

Source: Dittmar, Joseph J. The 100 Greatest Baseball Games. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2000.

Left the Red Sox

Meanwhile, the relationship between Fisk's agent, Jerry Kapstein, and the Red Sox's owners, Haywood Sullivan and John Harrington, grew contentious. Their troubles came to a head when the owners failed to meet a December deadline to renew Fisk's contract for the 1981 season. Fisk, at 33, was declared a free agent. Jumping at the chance to recruit the star player, the Chicago White Sox lured Fisk away from Boston with a five-year, $3 million contract. Red Sox fans mourned his departure, and Fisk, too, struggled with the decision. "It broke my heart to leave New England," Fisk told Rogers of the Chicago Tribune. "I grew up as a New England guy. All the kids I knew fantasized about wearing a Red Sox's uniform or a Celtics' uniform. To be able to do that, it was a dream come true."

Moving with his family to Lockport, Illinois, Fisk played some of his best baseball with the White Sox. His performance was particularly strong whenever he returned to Boston's Fenway Park. In his first game against Boston, he hit a three-run, eighth-inning home run to clinch the game for Chicago. Throughout his White Sox career, Fisk rattled his former team with a.310 batting average in 105 games against them, and with 27 home runs and 67 runs batted in (RBI).

Yet Fisk's relationship with the Chicago team's management was nearly as contentious as his relationship with the Red Sox's management. Relations were particularly strained between Fisk and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Nevertheless, Fisk went on to play out 13 seasons with the White Sox. Many believed his longevity as a player was the result of his tireless weight training and stretching sessions. When a conditioning director, Steve Odgers, joined the White Sox staff in 1990, Odgers found that he had more to learn from Fisk than to teach him.

As a catcher, Fisk was known for his notoriously slow walks to the pitcher's mound, known jokingly as "Pudge Trudges." Rumor had it that games caught by Fisk ran about 20 minutes longer than an average American League game. Fisk remained proud of his catching capabilities, however, and resisted the White Sox's attempts to move him to the outfield later in his career.

After a poor start to the 1993 season, the 44-year-old player finally conceded that his age had caught up with him. He retired just after breaking Bob Boone's record for most games caught.

Career Statistics

Yr Team AVG GP AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB
BRS: Boston Red Sox; CWS: Chicago White Sox.
1969 BRS .000 2 5 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
1971 BRS .312 14 48 7 15 2 6 1 10 0
1972 BRS .293 131 457 74 134 22 61 52 83 5
1973 BRS .246 135 508 65 125 26 71 37 99 7
1974 BRS .299 52 187 36 56 11 26 24 23 5
1975 BRS .331 79 263 47 87 10 52 27 32 4
1976 BRS .255 134 487 76 124 17 58 56 71 12
1977 BRS .315 152 536 106 169 26 102 75 85 7
1978 BRS .284 157 571 94 162 20 88 71 83 7
1979 BRS .272 91 320 49 87 10 42 10 38 3
1980 BRS .289 131 478 73 138 18 62 36 62 11
1981 CWS .263 96 338 44 89 7 45 38 37 3
1982 CWS .267 135 476 66 127 14 65 46 60 17
1983 CWS .289 138 488 85 141 26 86 46 88 9
1984 CWS .231 102 359 54 83 21 43 26 60 6
1985 CWS .238 153 543 85 129 37 107 52 81 17
1986 CWS .221 125 457 42 101 14 63 22 92 2
1987 CWS .256 135 454 68 116 23 71 39 72 1
1988 CWS .277 76 253 37 70 19 50 37 40 0
1989 CWS .293 103 375 47 110 13 68 36 60 1
1990 CWS .285 137 452 65 129 18 61 61 73 7
1991 CWS .241 134 460 42 111 18 74 32 86 1
1992 CWS .229 62 188 12 43 3 21 23 38 3
1993 CWS .189 25 53 2 10 1 4 2 11 0

In January 2000, the Baseball Writers Association of America elected Fisk to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Inducted that summer, Fisk chose to wear a Boston Red Sox cap on his Hall of Fame plaquethough he had played longer with the Chicago team. "New England is still where my roots are," he explained to Whiteside of the Boston Globe. "And I'm a New England person even though I don't live there." As the first New Hampshire player to be inducted, Fisk remains one of New England's finest athletes. He leaves behind a legacy as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Dittmar, Joseph J. The 100 Greatest Baseball Games. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2000.

Periodicals

Lessels, Allen. "All Along the Way, Fisk Was Memorable." Boston Globe (July 23, 2000): 16.

Rogers, Phil. "Fisk's Body of Work." Chicago Tribune (July 21, 2000).

Whiteside, Larry. "Pride of New England Will Take Rightful Place." Boston Globe (July 21, 2000): E1.

Other

"Carlton Fisk." BaseballLibrary.com. http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/F/Fisk_Carlton.stm (November 5, 2002).

"Carlton Fisk." National Baseball Hall of Fame. http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofer_bios/fisk_carlton.htm (November 5, 2002).

"Carlton Fisk Statistics." Baseball Almanac. http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=fiskca01 (November 5, 2002).

Sketch by Wendy Kagan

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