If you've been paying attention you probably noticed Topps continues their long standing tradition of reserving cards ending in factors of five to stars. Let's see so far- #10 Gorman Thomas, #15 Ron Cey, and..... #20 Carlton Fisk.
Card: This is Fisk's 12th Topps card. He shared a rookie card with Cecil Cooper and Mike Garman in 1972. Fisk played so long he had cards before, during, and after I was actively collecting. Overall he appeared in 22 regular issue cards from '72 - '93.
Picture: Fisk is pictured here shouting out instructions to his teammates. As a kid I always though he looked like he was crying. He's probably yelling "Two ouu-uuts" or something like that. We get a good look at one of the numerous White Sox uniform
variations that they seemed to change every three or four years in the 70's and 80's. I always liked this variety. Although having a uniform number on the upper thigh / groin area seems kind of awkward, I always thought it was cool.
Player: Carlton Fisk was drafted in the first round of the 1967 draft by the Red Sox out of the University of New Hampshire. In '68 Fisk tore up single-A ball and did well enough in '69 to earn a two game look in September. Not quite ready, Fisk spent all of '70 and almost all of '71 refining his game in the high minors. Given a longer look in September of '71, Fisk hit .313 in 48 at bats. Fisk was in the show to stay, not returning to the minors except for a eight game rehab assignment 21 years later!
On the bench behind two veterans, Fisk worked his way into a starting job in '72 by virtue of injury to Duane Josephson and Bob Montgomery's lack of defensive ability. Fisk had a great season, batting .293, belting 22 HR, and a league leading with nine triples. This led to Fisk winning the Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove, and finishing fourth in MVP voting. Fisk's average dropped a bit in '73 due to a long second half slump, but he still managed to hit 26 HR.
1974 would bring adversity as he missed the first 17 games of the season due to injury and saw his season end on June 28 when he tore knee ligaments when he found himself on the receiving end of a home plate collision. At the time of the injury Fisk had a .299 batting average and 11 HR in 187 at bats.
Fisk rehabbed his knee but was hit by a pitch in spring training and suffered a broken arm and did not return to the Red Sox until June of '75. Batting .331 with 10 HR in half a season of action, Fisk helped lead the Red Sox to the playoffs against the Oakland A's. Fisk went five for twelve as the Red Sox swept the A's and matched up with the Reds in the World Series. Down three games to two, Fisk hit the one of the most memorable home runs of all-time. Of course I'm referring to his 12th inning game winning blast that bounced off the left field foul pole as Fisk waved for the ball to stay fair. Despite Fisk's heroics the Red Sox lost in seven games to the Reds.
Fisk's play in '76 wasn't remarkable but in '77 and '78 Fisk was a workhorse. Starting 299 games behind the plate, he was productive as ever, batting .299 with 46 HR and 190 RBI over the two seasons.
"Pudge" endured an injury plagued '79 season but bounced back in '80 with a typical Fisk season with 18 HR and a .289 average.
When Red Sox management somehow forgot to mail Fisk's contract on time he suddenly became a free agent. Since his relationship with Boston brass had been falling apart, he was open to leaving his native New England. The White Sox made him feel wanted when they offered a five year, $2.9 million deal to come to the south side of Chicago.
Fisk had moderate success in '81 and '82 but the White Sox were slowly improving. 1983 was a big year as Fisk cranked out 26 dingers and helped lead the ChiSox to the postseason. Fisk and the White Sox struggled against the Orioles and were knocked out of the ALCS in four games. The next season would be the least productive of his career thus far as he batted only .231 in only 102 games. At age 37 most catchers are retired or reduced to back up roles. Not Fisk, he bounced back by hitting a career best 37 HR in '85. Moved to left field at the start of '86 for reasons still unknown perhaps to all except former Sox manager Tony LaRussa, Fisk struggled hitting only 14 HR and batting just .221.
Fisk plugged away and over his age 39 to 43 seasons, he played remarkably well for his age averaging 18 long balls a year with a .267 average. Fisk would play another year and a half breaking the all-time record for games caught with 2,226, but the 45 year-old Fisk would be unceremoniously released days later on June 28, 1993.
Flipside: You see that cup-o-coffee Fisk got in '69? That allowed him to play major league ball in four decades.
Oddball: Fisk's first love was hoops and he went to New Hampshire on a basketball scholarship. Fisk realized his size and talent were better utilized on the diamond rather than the hardwood and dedicated himself to the game.
History: Fisk is remembered as a fiery catcher who wasn't afraid to put someone in their place if he thought they needed it. Maybe it was that same fiery personality that led to conflicts with both Boston and Chicago management through the years, but it's a shame he was released the way he was. Fisk was extremely durable, played great defense, hit for power, and played the most demanding position on the field into his mid-forties. Fisk has the second most home runs by a catcher and the second most games caught. Fisk had a tremendous career winning a gold glove, three silver sluggers, and a Rookie of the Year award. Fisk was named to eleven All-Star teams, received MVP votes in seven different seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Fisk has since patched things up with both of his former teams and has witnessed his number 27 retired in Boston and 72 retired in Chicago.
Fisk currently does work for and is an honorary board member of the Cancer Support Center.