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Carlton Fisk

Born: December 26, 1947, Bellows Falls, VT  Height: 6'3"  Weight: 200
Bats: Right  Throws: Right  Position: Catcher  #27

Carlton Fisk

Carlton Fisk caught more games than any other player in baseball history. He hit the most home runs as a catcher. He was Rookie of the Year in 1972, the first to be chosen unanimously. He won a Gold Glove award the same year. He played 23 years in the majors, and was chosen to the All-Star game in eleven of those seasons. His .481 slugging average ranks as the 10th best in Red Sox history. In the summer of 2000, he was inducted into the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But "Pudge" will always be remembered in the hearts of New Englanders for one moment more than 30 Octobers ago...

October 21, 1975

Fisk swings

Waving it fair

It's fair!

Red Sox win!

Listen to the home run call!

The 1975 World Series pitted the Red Sox against Cincinnati's Big Red Machine. Carlton Fisk, Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, Carl Yastrzemski, Luis Tiant, and Bill Lee faced off against Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, and Ken Griffey for one of the most exciting series in history.

The Red Sox won the opener 6-0 behind the pitching of Luis Tiant. El Tiante held the Reds scoreless, and the Sox scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a 1-0 series lead. The next night, Bill Lee held Cincinnati to one run for eight innings, but the Reds scored twice in the ninth to take the game 3-2 and even the series at one game apiece. Cincinnati won the third game, 6-5. The game saw six home runs, including one by pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo, and a controversial play, in which a clear case of catcher's interference was called an error and led to the winning run. In Game 4, Tiant threw another complete game, using 163 pitches and beating the Reds 5-4. The next night Cincinnati won, 6-2. After having a day off to travel to Boston, the series was delayed three more days by rain.

And so it was that the two teams met the night of October 21, 1975, at Fenway Park. The four days off meant Tiant was able to face off against Gary Nolan. Fred Lynn got the Red Sox on the board with a three-run homer in the first inning. But Cincinnati scored three in the fifth, two in the seventh, and one in the eighth, to take a 6-3 lead. A win that night would clinch the series for the Reds. But the Sox were not finished yet. In the eighth inning, Bernie Carbo was once again called upon to pinch-hit. With two men aboard, Carbo launched the pitch into the center field bleachers, tying the game at 6. The Red Sox failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, despite having the bases loaded with no outs, and the game went to extra innings.

In the eleventh inning, the Reds had a man on first with one out, when Joe Morgan hit the ball to deep right field. It seemed a sure home run, but Dwight Evans made a spectacular catch, and then doubled up the runner at first to end the inning. In the home half of the twelfth, Carlton Fisk led off. He stepped to the plate at 12:33 am, and hit the second pitch of the inning high and deep to left field, but right down the line. If it stayed fair it was a sure home run, but would it stay fair? Fisk jumped up and down in front of home plate, wildly gesturing toward the ball, waving it fair. The ball smacked off the foul pole. Home run! The Red Sox had won!

Although the Reds went on to take Game 7, 4-3, the Red Sox had won the most memorable and exciting game in World Series history, and Carlton Fisk had won his way into the hearts of all Red Sox Nation. As Fisk himself says, "The Red Sox won that series, 3 games to 4."

Career Notes

Fisk shows his love of the Yankees A life-long New Englander, Fisk gestures toward the Yankees dugout before throwing out the first pitch in Game 4 of the 1999 ALCS.
•  Carlton Fisk was the fourth pick overall in the 1969 draft, and he made his major league debut later that year, playing in two games for the big league club.

•  His first full season was 1972, and what a season it was! Fisk batted .293 with 22 home runs and 61 RBI. He also tied for the league lead in triples. His play behind the plate earned him a Gold Glove award, and he was honored with the American League's Rookie of the Year award. He was the first player ever to win that award unanimously.

•  Pudge was selected to seven All-Star teams with the Red Sox: in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980. He was the A.L.'s starting catcher in '73, '77, '78, and '80. He played in four more with the White Sox.

•  In the sixth game of the 1975 World Series, Fisk hit one of the most famous homers ever, waving his 12th-inning game-winning shot fair.

•  His .481 slugging percentage while with the Red Sox is the tenth best in club history.

•  At the end of the 1980 season, Fisk signed with the Chicago White Sox, and went on to play for 14 more seasons.

•  He retired in 1993, having caught more games than any other player. He finished with 376 home runs, 351 of them as a catcher, the most ever for a catcher. His 72 home runs after the age of 40 is a Major League record.

•  Carlton was elected into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.

•  At the start of the 1999 season, he rejoined the Red Sox organization, as a special assistant to the GM.

•  Fisk was named the honorary captain of the 1999 A.L. All-Star Team, and threw out the first pitch in Game 4 of the ALCS that fall.

•  On July 23, 2000, Carlton Fisk was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. His number 27 was retired by the Red Sox on Labor Day, a fitting tribute to a man who labored behind the plate for over 20 years.

•  On September 4, 2000, Fisk's uniform number 27 was retired by the Boston Red Sox.

•  On June 13, 2005, almost 30 years after the 1975 World Series, the left field pole was officially dedicated as the Fisk Pole, before an interleague contest against the Cincinnati Reds.

Destination Cooperstown

On July 23, 2000, Carlton Fisk stepped to the podium as the newest inductee in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and I was there. All the details, including my photos and his induction speech are available in the Carlton Fisk in the Hall of Fame page.

Catcher in the Rough
by Alec McGillis, Concord Monitor staff

To understand how an entire state fell in love with a man named Pudge, it helps to visit his hometown in midwinter.

The roadside snowbanks seem to grow deeper as you wind west toward Charlestown in the Connecticut River valley, the boyhood home of Carlton Fisk. By the time they fully melt away, springtime will be well-established in most other parts of the country. By the time the youngsters here take their baseball gloves out of the closet, their peers in Texas and California will have been on the diamond for weeks.

This state, it becomes obvious on the slush-covered road through Sunapee and Newport and Claremont, is not fertile country for baseball players. It produces great fans of the game but few great practitioners: The growing season is just too short.

In this barren landscape, Carlton Fisk sprouted as improbably as 10-foot-high corn in a rock-strewn field. Those who watched his rise still shake their heads over it, like farmers reminiscing about a prize-winning oddity at the county fair.

"We played at most 12 games a season, that's it. How many guys from a little town like Charlestown with that short a season make it to be one of the best catchers of all time? It was mindboggling to me," said Ralph Silva, who coached Fisk in baseball and basketball at Charlestown High School in the 1960s.

There have been a few other major league players from the state, but they spent their careers with distant teams and never equaled Fisk in ability. And then there have been players who, through their exploits with the Red Sox, became synonymous with New England baseball, like Ted Williams and Roger Clemens. Yet Williams was forever a son of faraway San Diego, just as Clemens never let us forget that home to him was Katy, Texas.

Fisk was a rare happy convergence of the two groups, a local star who landed with the local team. For one decade, the 1970s, northern New England had a favorite son. Every town that tuned in to the Red Sox for the thrilling and ultimately heartbreaking seasons of 1975 and 1978 could lay some claim to Fisk. If Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard Round the World in 1951 for the Giants, Fisk's 12th-inning foul-pole-scraping home run in Game Six of the 1975 World Series was the Shot Heard Round New England.

It was 12:33 in the morning when Fisk waved his game-winning blast fair, but that didn't stop Don Conant, a fan of Fisk's since the catcher's high school days, from ringing the church bells at St. Luke's in Charlestown to mark the moment. Local boy makes good, chimed the bells.

Boy, oh boy does he make good.

"A weird thought came to me at that moment. I got up from the game, went to the church and said, 'By God, somebody's going to hear about this,' " said Conant. "I figured it was his church and my church and I didn't want to get into a long discussion with the minister about the ins and outs of doing it. It scared the hell out of a lot people - they couldn't figure out where the fire was."

In Fisk, there was someone the region could finally call its own, who wouldn't leave for warmer climes, like the farmers and factories before him. He even stayed in the state after he made it to the majors, choosing to live in Raymond and commute to Fenway Park rather than settle in the big city.

Charles Perkins, a volunteer firefighter in the town, recalls encountering the catcher on a call.

"I went to respond to a chimney fire, and he was right up on the roof with me. I was there with the department, but he was just a neighbor come to help," Perkins said.

A Cooperstown career

In the end, though, Fisk did leave. His strained relations with the Red Sox brass culminated in his filing for free agency and signing with the Chicago White Sox in 1981. In his first game back at Fenway with Chicago, his late-inning home run beat Boston. There would be many more avenging at-bats against his former employer during his Chicago career, which ended with his retirement in 1993.

Losing Fisk to Chicago, said Bart Giamatti, a diehard Red Sox fan from farther down the Connecticut River in South Hadley, Mass., was the "the worst moment for Red Sox fans since the team sold Babe Ruth."

After his retirement, there was talk of Fisk's returning to the state. He decided he'd rather not uproot his family again and remained in the Midwest, in a large country house 45 minutes from Chicago. At 51, he recently became a grandfather. He spends his time at celebrity golf tournaments, in the weight room, and in the nursery with his orchids.

Fisk had just returned from pruning his apple trees when he returned a call to his former state last week. "I do a little bit of everything and a lot of nothing," he reported cheerily.

This winter, Fisk was back in the news after he narrowly missed making the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. It was a tough year to be up for election, with three other stars from Fisk's generation also on the ballot, and with the sportswriters who vote wary of inducting more than three players in any given year. Still, Fisk was still somewhat saddened to be overlooked.

"I have that old New England mentality of guarding my emotions well, of not getting all worked up so I'd be crushed if I didn't get it," Fisk said. "But I was disappointed. I feel as though I was as good at my position as the other guys were."

Fisk has the offensive numbers for the Hall of Fame: He hit 376 home runs, more than any other catcher, and batted a respectable .269 over his career despite several serious injuries. In 1972, he was unanimously elected American League Rookie of the Year.

If he is inducted, though, it will be for the intangibles not included in those figures. He is counted among the top five catchers of all time because he was one of the best ever at handling pitchers - the most important of a catcher's many duties - and because he embodied the virtues required in the ideal backstop: durability, leadership and smarts. He ranks first in the number of games caught in a career, the result of having stayed in the game until age 45 in the most physically grueling of positions.

Not surprisingly, commentators attributed Fisk's hardiness behind the plate to his Granite State origins. The catcher's sturdy build and proud bearing fit perfectly with sportswriters' portrayal of him as a kind of cross between the Old Man of the Mountain and a crusty character in a Frost poem.

Fisk doesn't dispute the stereotype. "My core was anchored in New Hampshire. Being stubborn and unwavering, never giving in, never giving up, keep going no matter what the obstacles, dig in, knuckle down, work harder, all that stuff," he said.

Those in Charlestown, though, knew the story behind Fisk's solidity lay even closer to home. Pitchers who were performing poorly had reason to fear Fisk's stern visits to the mound not because the catcher was a son of New Hampshire but because he was a son of Cecil and Leona Fisk, parents of a legendary brood of young athletes. Cecil, a machinist, part-time farmer and former tennis and basketball great, and Leona, an accomplished softball player, raised six children, several of them as talented as Carlton.

"His father was quite a disciplinarian; he worked them hard," recalled Harold Ames, a longtime acquaintance of the family. "The kids were all the same, all athletes. It was a great family to know."

Ethic and exuberance

The Fisk parents still live in the big white house on Elm Street that Carlton and his siblings grew up in. They took time out from watching Jeopardy one evening this winter to describe their contrasting styles as instructors to budding athletes.

"When the kids were small I used to take them out in the field in back and play catch with them. I figured, if they're interested in it you should go along with them," Leona Fisk said. "(Cecil) criticized them all the time; I praised them."

She cited the instance after a high school basketball playoff game in which Fisk scored 40 points and pulled down 30 rebounds (setting a state record that still stands) only to have his father criticize him for missing some foul shots.

Cecil Fisk, looking far younger than his 80-plus years, shrugged. The bar had to be set high so the kids wouldn't simply settle for what their inherited skill provided them, he explained.

"As long as you can find someone better than you at it, you have to do as much as you can, I always told them," he said.

As for getting on his son for the foul shots, he had no regrets. "In a close game, it's often decided by foul shots. You've got to hit them, no matter what."

There was no weekly allowance for the Fisk kids. For spending money, Carlton and his siblings delivered newspapers and cleaned the city reservoir in the spring.

One time Carlton complained about making only 50 cents an hour and considered quitting. His father set him straight. "I asked him what he would be getting if he wasn't working there and said until you make more doing something else you better do it."

Eventually, Fisk would be making much more, but there would be other times in his difficult dealings with baseball team owners when he would feel undervalued again. Both of his bosses, Haywood Sullivan in Boston and Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago, were reluctant to give the injury-prone but proud catcher the money and respect he thought he deserved. As he grew older, there seemed always to be a young prospect the owners wanted to replace Fisk - even as his offensive numbers held strong.

His parents knew little of his troubles with his bosses, other than that they made their son unhappy. They did not fight Fisk's departure for Chicago, though it meant they could no longer make weekend trips to see him play in Boston, a luxury they enjoyed for a decade.

An unforgettable at-bat

They were at Fenway for Game Six in 1975, in seats that gave them a perfect view of their son's deep drive as it hooked toward the foul pole but then stayed fair.

"It was breathtaking. Everyone was hooting and hollering," his mother recalled.

Looking back, their son said he sometimes wishes that he'd been able to enjoy playing for the local team more than he did, that injuries and battles with owners hadn't so obscured his good fortune. This shortcoming, Fisk said, had both physical and emotional roots.

"All those injuries and having to deal with management didn't allow me to enjoy it all as much I should have," he said. "But there was also a little of that thing they say about New Englanders: Being from here doesn't prevent me from doing anything, it just prevents me from enjoying it."

This was not the case when it came to his own memory of Game Six, which he said hasn't melded into the televised images others associate with it. In fact, the at-bat is one of the only things that hasn't blurred in his recollection of the series.

"That particular moment is etched in my brain forever," he said. "I remember so vividly standing in the on-deck circle with Fred Lynn - I can't figure out why I was there with him, because I never batted ahead of him - and saying, 'I feel like something good is going to happen.' It wasn't boastful or bold, it was just said in this conversational way. I said, 'I think I'm going to hit one off the wall. Drive me in.' And he said, 'Sounds good to me.'

"When I got to the plate it was like they say, I was in a zone. Everything was coming in slow-motion. I took the first pitch and the next one came in slow-motion and I knew I crushed it. I knew it had plenty to get up over the wall but it seemed to be curving foul and I'm yelling at it and then all of a sudden it just went straight."

A coach's dream

For Silva, the baseball and basketball coach at Charlestown High (which no longer exists), the Fisk family was a gift to be opened over and over again, from the parents on down to Carlton. Despite Cecil Fisk's high expectations, he never got in the way as parents often do today. He always sat quietly behind the bench and said, "Nice game," to Silva afterward.

Not that there was much coaching to be done with the naturally gifted Fisks, said Silva, whose coaching job at Charlestown was his first. Though Silva's natural bent was toward baseball, not basketball, the Fisk sons and several of their standout classmates made him look like a hoops genius, Silva said. In the three years between Fisk's sophomore and senior years, the basketball team went 49-3.

When Silva first laid eyes on Fisk in junior high, he had no way of knowing what was to come. Still exhibiting some of the boyhood chubbiness which gave him the nickname Pudge in grade school, Fisk had "feet that were falling all over him."

When Fisk showed up at the start of basketball season a year later, he had stretched to a chiseled 6 foot 3.

"He had lost all his gangliness. I could not believe the transformation," Silva recalled.

Fisk spent more of his time at Charlestown High pitching than catching; it was his older brother Calvin who graduated as a top catching prospect, only to find himself labeled as too old after he returned from serving in Vietnam. Silva said he sometimes wondered if, beyond his bad luck in being drafted, Calvin Fisk was "too nice" to make it to the big leagues. Calvin's younger brother, on the other hand, had a toughness that served him well. If there was anything he had to coach Carlton Fisk on, Silva said, it was pointing his boundless energy in the right direction.

While Fisk's tenacity would extend his injury-ridden career, it would also make his final years difficult to bear at times, as he watched rookies who lacked his old-fashioned ethic break into the big leagues. In one well-publicized incident, he chewed out the flashy Deion Sanders for not running hard to first base - even though Sanders was on the opposing team.

To those who knew him well, though, Fisk shed his toughness. Whenever he returned to Charlestown in his early years with the Red Sox, he made sure to stop at his coach's house to play Wiffle Ball with Silva's kids. Silva's son Kenneth, who worked as a ball boy at Fisk's high school games, plans to send Fisk a copy of a solo folk-rock album he just recorded, so friendly has Fisk remained with the family.

Years later, Kenneth Silva still marvels at the way Fisk jumped so high that he could hold the basketball between his elbows and drop it through the hoop - an alternative to dunking, which wasn't allowed.

"There was that regal kind of way he walked, like he knew he was somebody. He inspired me in my own life with that walk," Kenneth Silva said.

When Ralph Silva attended a ceremony honoring his coaching career a few years ago in Concord, the moderator startled him by reading a letter Fisk had written for the occasion.

"Ever since I had him, I've looked for that special a guy, and I never found him," Silva said. "So I've had to live on his laurels my whole life. I was kind of lucky that I hit town when I did, when he and the others were growing up."

The waiting game

The wonder of making it to the doorstep of Cooperstown from his back yard in Charlestown is not lost on Fisk. He recalled how it was as a young major leaguer to come across players like Fred Lynn, who attended college in California and played more than 1,000 games before even arriving in the minors. Fisk, by contrast, had played fewer than 100 organized games in high school and in a brief stint at the University of New Hampshire before he was signed by the Red Sox.

It was partly the dominance of winter that led the young Fisk to fantasize more of Boston Garden than Fenway Park. "Everybody's boyhood dream was to play for the Celtics or the Red Sox. I wanted to be with the Celtics," he said. "But of course it turned out okay anyway."

Fisk's only explanation for bucking the geographic odds was this: "Maybe I expect more from myself than I do from others." It was this resolve that produced the workout regimen which allowed him to return from five knee operations over the course of his career, he said. After spending nine innings in a crouch behind home plate, he would retire to several hours of lifting and stretches in the clubhouse. It was the sheer challenge of keeping himself in form all those years that made returning to baseball as a coach - something many think he'd excel at - seem so daunting, he said.

"The thing I looked forward to most when I retired was getting off that baseball schedule - everything revolves around it, for 365 days," he said. "I'm feeling a little bit of a stirring these days that makes me think about getting back into it, but that kind of commitment, even as a coach, is tough to make unless you have that burning passion."

For now, the date on the baseball calendar he finds himself looking ahead to is the day next January when the next class of Hall of Fame inductees is named. With a weaker crop of candidates up next time around, his chances are good.

Ever the encouraging mom, Leona Fisk has found some confidence in the history of Hall of Fame balloting. "Well, Joe DiMaggio didn't make it the first time either, right?" she said of last month's near miss.

A few years ago, Fisk came back to Charlestown for Old Home Day. He rode on the back of a tractor and waved to the crowds. He said it was enjoyable but somewhat unsettling.

"Maybe this is a New England thing too, but it's hard to think of myself as a celebrity. Coming home, I always just feel like I'm one of the Fisks. To be treated a little extra special like that was kind of embarrassing. I saw people I knew from school as I went by, and they all called me Pudgy. I hadn't been called that since grade school!"

If Fisk does become the first New Hampshirite to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, he will have to decide whether to enter the shrine as a Red Sox or White Sox. Which team's cap will his likeness wear on the plaque? It's something he's been asked for the past 10 years. It's a tough one to answer, as he spent roughly the same time with the two clubs and bad feelings linger over his treatment by the management of both teams.

Ralph Silva, who's now coaching in Claremont, thinks he has the answer.

"Tell him I've got an old Charlestown High cap ready if he wants it," he said.

Article published by the Concord Monitor on 8/26/1999.
Copyright © Concord Monitor.

Fisk's Career Stats

More career stats from

 1969 Boston.000 
1971Boston.313 14 48 15 10 
1972Boston.293 131 457 74 134 28 9** 22 61 52 83 
1973Boston.246 135 508 65 125 21 26 71 37 99 
1974Boston.299 52 187 36 56 12 11 26 24 23 
1975Boston.331 79 263 47 87 14 10 52 27 32 
1976Boston.255 134 487 76 124 17 17 58 56 71 12 
1977Boston.315 152 536 106 169 26 26 102 75 85 
1978Boston.284 157 571 94 162 39 20 88 71 83 
1979Boston.272 91 320 49 87 23 10 42 10 38 
1980Boston.289 131 478 73 138 25 18 62 36 62 11 
1981Chi - AL.263 96 338 44 89 12 45 38 37 
1982Chi - AL.267 135 476 66 127 17 14 65 46 60 17 
1983Chi - AL.289 138 488 85 141 26 26 86 46 88 
1984Chi - AL.231 102 359 54 83 20 21 43 26 60 
1985Chi - AL.238 153 543 85 129 23 37 107 52 81 17 
1986Chi - AL.221 125 457 42 101 11 14 63 22 92 
1987Chi - AL.256 135 454 68 116 22 23 71 39 72 
1988Chi - AL.277 76 253 37 70 19 50 37 40 
1989Chi - AL.293 103 375 47 110 25 13 68 36 60 
1990Chi - AL.285 137 452 65 129 21 18 65 61 73 
1991Chi - AL.241 134 460 42 111 25 18 74 32 86 
1992Chi - AL.229 62 188 12 43 21 23 38 
1993Chi - AL.189 25 53 10 11 
M.L. Totals .269 2499 8756 1276 2356 421 47 376 1330 849 1386 128 

** Tied for league lead

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