Carlton Fisk played more games with the Chicago White Sox than he did with the Boston Red Sox.
Doesn’t that sound strange. I mean unless you are Jimmy Pardo or grew up on the South Side of Chicago, when I say Carlton Fisk, you think of the Red Sox. His hat on his Hall of Fame plaque is a Red Sox hat. His lasting image in baseball history is that of him waving the ball fair in the 1975 World Series.
He was born in New England, grew up in New England. He idolized the Red Sox. He was one of us.
And if someone coldly looked at his stats, they could make the case that the hat on his plaque should have read S-O-X, as in Chicago.
It would be a tough argument to have him wear the curly Q C hat that he wore with the totally forgettable White Sox uniforms shown on this record breaker card issued in 1991. The card commemorates when he homered off of Charlie Hough, another old timer, to pass Johnny Bench for most homers ever by a catcher.
How did that happen? How did a New England legend spend so much time in Chicago when he should have been breaking records and playing in the post season with Boston for his entire career?
The answer is simple. I have often criticized the Red Sox management at the time for being racist and immoral. But let’s not discount how stupid they were either.
It had to do with a postmark.
Fisk was born in Vermont and grew up in Charlestown New Hampshire. Already he was the perfect Red Sox star. He could represent 3 New England states right out of the gate. He was a basketball and baseball star and wound up being drafted by the Red Sox in 1967.
After making cameos in the big leagues in 1969 and 1971, he was up for good in 1972. He won the Gold Glove, smashed 22 homers, led the league with 9 triples, batted .293 and had an OPS of .909 as the Red Sox contended for the AL East until the final day of the season. He made the All Star team and was named Rookie of the Year.
A star was born.
Along with the Yankee’s Thurman Munson, he had a not so friendly rivalry among the AL’s best catchers. He also faced his share of injuries but excelled when he was on the field. Between 1972 and 1980, all of his full years with the Red Sox, he missed the All Star Game twice.
Ironically one of the years he wasn’t an All Star was 1975, the year of his immortality.
The Red Sox had an offensive nucleus of Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Jerry Remy, Rick Burleson and Carlton Fisk in 1980. My favorite player, Butch Hobson, was wonderful but injury prone. It was an All Star team that needed a few pitchers to win the East.
Guess what? They wanted to get paid. It was the era of free agency and the Red Sox were a team that had money. Hey! Why not keep the team together?
Well this was the Red Sox, who felt compelled to shell out big dough for Bill Campbell, Mike Torrez and Tony Perez but suddenly got cost conscious when it came to their own star players.
Fisk wanted a significant raise. Haywood Sullivan (no relation to me), the GM of the team balked and a stand off took place. Eventually the Red Sox mailed him a contract.
There was one problem. The post mark was a day after the free agency deadline. Now there are two explanations of what happened: The Red Sox management intentionally mailed it a day late to create the optics that they tried to keep Carlton Fisk while actually letting him walk… OR… they stupidly forgot to put it in the mail.
EITHER ANSWER makes the Red Sox look stupid. Do you know what also made the Red Sox look stupid? The fact that Carlton Fisk continued to produce like an All Star as a member of the White Sox.
He signed with Chicago before the 1981 season and always seemed to homer against the Red Sox when he returned.
In 107 career games against Boston, he batted .310, had an OPS of .967, homered 27 times (appropriately his number with Boston).
He made four more All Star teams, finishing third in the 1983 MVP vote when he helped lead Chicago to the ALCS. His 37 homers in 1985 earned him a Silver Slugger Award. He was a Silver Slugger in 1988 as well, finished 15th in the MVP vote in 1990 and made the 1991 All Star Team.
The Red Sox did develop another home grown native New Englander All Star catcher with Rich Gedman. But Free Agency derailed his career, specifically collusion. The Red Sox could have resigned Fisk, but declined to because they were one of the colluding organizations.
So, when Fisk’s career wrapped up in 1993, he played 1078 games over 9 plus seasons in Boston and 1421 games in 13 seasons for Chicago.
214 of his 376 career homers were as a White Sox catcher.
He should have been a Red Sox catcher for life. He should have been on the 1986 pennant winner and the 1988 and 1990 Division Champs, teammates with Evans for all three and Rice in 1986 and 1988.
Instead a contract was put into the mail a day late and we had to see Fisk wear all sorts of crappy looking White Sox jerseys.
So we’ve all seen the Fisk homer in the 1975 World Series. Let’s see him homer in his return to Fenway, putting the White Sox up in the game late. It was a huge middle finger to Red Sox management as he got a standing ovation from the Boston fans.