Baseball Digest Birthdays: Carlton Fisk

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

One of the most iconic images in baseball history involve a 27 year old Carlton Fisk waving a fly ball fair during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. His career at that juncture with just over four full seasons under his belt, the ball waving scene set the tone for a career that lasted 24 years and spanned four decades. One of the greatest offensive catchers in history, Carlton Fisk turns 63 on December 26th.

Carlton Fisk was born in Bellows Falls, Vermont in 1947, and grew up in neighboring Charlestown, New Hampshire. He attended the University of New Hampshire before the Boston Red Sox drafted him 4th overall in the 1967 Amateur Draft, completing the ‘local boy gets drafted’ story. Though he first reached the major leagues in 1969 for two games, “Pudge” spent most of four seasons in the minor leagues.

In 1972, his first full season in Boston, Fisk dominated American League pitching to the tune of a .293 batting average, 22 home runs, and an OPS+ of 162. Along with being awarded a Gold Glove and finishing fourth in Most Valuable Player voting, he was the first player to be unanimously voted the league’s Rookie of The Year Award. Fisk followed up his debut season with another power season in 1973 with 26 home runs, and seemed to be well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best in the game.

Along with developing into a offensive threat, Fisk also embroiled himself into several infamous feuds. In a 1973 game, New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson collided hard with Fisk while trying to score on a bunt. The collision set off a brawl and an ongoing feud that fueled the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry. Another feud a few year later involved Yankees outfielder Lou Pinella, who ran over Fisk while trying to score on a single. The brawl that ensued ended up injuring Boston pitcher Bill Lee as he dislocated his shoulder fighting with Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles. The collisions at home plate did take their toll on the catcher as well. In a June game against the Cleveland Indians in 1974, Leron Lee collided at home plate, crushing Fisk’s knee, putting his career in question. Despite early indications that he may never play again, he returned a year later to hit .331 in 79 games.

In an April 1990 issue of Baseball Digest, Jeff Lenihan profiled Carlton Fisk’s durability at the age of 42 while he was a member of the Chicago White Sox. Click here to read the article!

Fisk’s triumphant return from injury was capped off with his postseason dominance. In addition to the epic World Series home run, he also hit .417 against Reggie Jackson’s Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series. If there was any doubt that Fisk had returned to his usual form, the 1975 postseason put doubts to rest.

Over the next five seasons, Fisk averaged 18 homers and a .283 average to go along with four more trips to the All-Star Game. His best season came in 1977 when he slugged 26 home runs and hit .315.

The end of Fisk’s time in Boston was the result of a technicality and growing animosity between the hometown product and the team management. Along with other players, Fisk voiced his displeasure with salaries that didn’t quite match up with the performance of players. As a result of the dispute, Red Sox owner Haywood Sullivan mailed the catcher a contract the day after the contractual deadline. This made Fisk a free agent, and he opted to sign a deal with the Chicago White Sox for the 1981 season, donning the number 72, a reversal of the more traditional 27 he wore while in Boston.

Carlton Fisk’s move to the south side of Chicago helped turn their fortunes around almost immediately. The White Sox reached the ALCS in 1983, in Fisk’s third year with the team and the first time for the franchise in more than two decades. His leadership and offensive power proved to be a catalyst for Chicago. He sustained injuries in 1984 that forced him to assess his training regiment. The new training for the aging veteran likely extended his career and certainly can be attributed to his career high 37 home runs in 1985.

The latter years of Calton Fisk’s career in Chicago can best be described as steady and remarkable when you consider he was averaging 18 home runs and a .260 average in his late 30’s and into his mid 40’s. His own personal rivalry with the New York Yankees continued throughout his career as well. While playing at Yankee Stadium, the veteran catcher confronted Deion Sanders for not running out a pop fly. This came during a time when Sanders was just starting his career as a two sport athlete.

During his final two seasons in the big leagues, Fisk began setting all-time records for catchers including most home runs and most games caught. Though both records have been since surpassed, Fisk’s place in history is secure. His career ended unceremoniously when the Chicago White Sox released him several days after he set the record for most games caught in 1993. To make matters worse, he was not allowed in the clubhouse when the team later clinched a playoff spot that season.

Despite his acrimonious departure from both the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox, he was later recognized for his years with both, as he is just one of eight players in MLB history to have his number retired by two different teams. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, and opted to wear a Boston Red Sox “B” on his plaque.

Also Celebrating A Birthday Today:

Ozzie Smith, the 2002 inductee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was born in December 26th, 1954. A 15 time All-Star and 13 time Gold Glove, spent much of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, with which he was a member of the 1982 World Series Champion team.

Chris Chambliss, born in 1948, played 17 seasons at the Major League level with the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians. He was the 1972 American League Rookie of The Year.

Ray Sadecki, born in 1940, played 18 years in the big leagues, and is best remembered as a member of the 1964 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals and the 1973 National League Pennant winning New York Mets.

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