Nicknamed “Pudge”, Carlton Fisk played Major League baseball for 24 years, becoming one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game.
Growing up in New Hampshire and hoping to play for the Boston Celtics one day, Fisk quickly became infatuated with the game of baseball and dedicated his life to the game.
Using his hard work ethic and unrivaled competitive spirit, Fisk powered through the minor leagues, immediately making an impact in Boston.
After a decade of elite play, Fisk helped lead the White Sox to the postseason and cemented his legacy.
— Vintage Jerseys & Hats (@PolyesterUnis) August 13, 2022
Carlton Ernest Fisk was born on December 26, 1947, in Bellows Falls, Vermont to parents Leona and Cecil Fisk.
Although he was born in Vermont, Fisk grew up in the small town of Charlestown, New Hampshire.
As a young man, Fisk inherited his athleticism and interest in sports from his father.
Cecil Fisk was an avid tennis and basketball player who also worked hard on the Fisk family farm.
Leona Fisk was a fantastic bowler, tennis player, and softball player in her own right during her life.
Fisk learned many things from his parents, including the value of hard work and sportsmanship.
He was a competitive young man who was inspired by his parents to be the best he could be at anything he put his mind to.
In high school, Fisk excelled in three sports, including baseball, basketball, and soccer.
He was 6’2 in high school and basketball was probably his best sport.
Fisk learned baseball with the help of his siblings, who played on the family farm as often as possible, sometimes staying out until dusk.
Fisk was competitive on the high school baseball team, often verbally coming after teammates for not taking the game seriously.
Sometimes this escalated to physical confrontations, as Fisk once punched a teammate in the face.
Fisk was joined by his two brothers, Calvin and Conrad on the baseball team.
The long and harsh New England winters meant that the baseball season was short, but Fisk made every game count.
He pitched and was a catcher for the high school team and an American Legion team during the summers.
Fisk’s performance in these games brought attention from colleges and Major League scouts, and Fisk decided to attend the University of New Hampshire.
While at college, Fisk continued to play multiple sports.
He was a standout basketball player, helping to lead the basketball team to an undefeated season in his first year.
Midway through his first year in school, the Boston Red Sox drafted Fisk.
After contemplating whether to sign with Boston or continue playing basketball, Fisk decided to sign and forgo a basketball career, believing he had a better chance of making the big leagues than the NBA.
Calvin and Conrad were also drafted before and after Carlton – Calvin by the Baltimore Orioles, and Conrad by the Montreal Expos.
In his first year playing in the Red Sox farm system, Fisk played well but did not like playing for a losing team.
His competitive spirit was beginning to overpower him, and he often wrote letters home describing how he was feeling.
Despite almost quitting baseball altogether, Fisk stuck it out until 1969 when the Red Sox called him up to the Major Leagues.
As a September call-up, Fisk failed to record a hit in five at-bats.
The team as a whole decided that Fisk needed more seasoning before he could become a full-time big league player, and they sent him down to AA to begin the 1970 season.
Fisk took this demotion as a learning opportunity and was determined to make it back to Boston any way he could.
He spent 1970 with the Pawtucket Red Sox and 1971 with AAA Louisville.
Fisk greatly improved both his defense at catcher and his hitting in Louisville, prompting the Red Sox to call him up for a second try at the end of 1971.
Fisk ended the season on a strong note, hitting two home runs and showcasing his defense in a handful of games.
He made the team out of spring training in 1972 as a backup catcher.
When starting catcher Duane Josephson went down with an injury, Fisk was named the starter and never looked back.
By the middle of the summer, Fisk’s defense and offensive prowess were beginning to draw comparisons to Johnny Bench, the consensus best catcher in all of baseball.
In just his first season, Fisk was selected to the All-Star team and would win the American League Rookie of the Year Award and a Gold Glove.
Fisk finished the 1972 season with a .293 batting average, 22 home runs, and 61 RBI.
— Carolyn Muse (@NLCarolynMuse) November 21, 2021
The Red Sox had found their catcher for the future with Fisk.
While everyone was impressed with Fisk’s on-field performance, his competitive nature caused some rifts around the league.
He had multiple run-ins and confrontations with coaches and players around the league, who viewed him as a cocky rookie.
He was also prone to criticizing his teammates if he thought they were not giving the game all they had or were underperforming.
After just one season in the league, Fisk was becoming notorious for his play and his attitude.
Fisk began the 1973 season where 1972 left off, again performing at an elite level on defense and offense for the first few months of the season.
Fisk’s desire to catch every game without days off may have caused his performance in the second half of the season to decline due to fatigue.
Fisk made his second All-Star team, but by the end of the season had just a .246 average.
He improved his power numbers, hitting 26 home runs.
In 1974, Fisk’s career almost came to an end after he tore ligaments in his knee on a play at home plate in a game against the Cleveland Indians.
Fisk’s career was put in jeopardy, and he believed he might never be able to play again.
He underwent extensive rehabilitation during the offseason, itching the entire time to return in 1975.
In 1975, Fisk entered spring training relatively healthy, looking forward to being the Red Sox starting catcher once again.
Carlton Fisk slides in ahead of Gene Tenace’s tag in the 1975 ALCS pic.twitter.com/Z39FF4novc
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) August 5, 2022
His optimism was short-lived, as he was hit in the arm by a pitch during an at-bat in spring training, breaking bones.
He missed almost the first three months of the season, only returning in late June.
It had been almost a year since he had appeared in a Major League game.
Fisk was exceptional upon his return to the Boston lineup, posting a .331 batting average for the first-place Red Sox.
He carried his performance into the postseason, helping the Red Sox defeat the Oakland Athletics, who had won the past three World Series, in the ALCS.
If the season had ended there, it still would have been a remarkable season for Fisk.
After suffering torn ligaments and a broken arm, he returned and played at an elite level, leading the Red Sox to an AL East title and pennant.
Fisk’s heroics did not end here, however.
In Game Six of the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Fisk hit a walk-off home run in extra innings to tie the series at three games apiece.
As the ball was hurling towards Fenway Park’s Green Monster, Fisk waved his arms, almost forcing the ball to stay fair.
It hit the foul pole, winning the game and becoming one of the most iconic moments in baseball history and the highlight of Fisk’s career.
The Reds would go on to defeat the Red Sox in Game Seven, ending one of the greatest World Series ever played.
While the Reds won the title, the series is primarily remembered for Fisk’s home run.
Reflecting on his famous home run, Fisk said,
“And then after that, running around those bases, it was just one of those things. You couldn’t believe what happened to you. And I look back on it, it’s almost like it happened to somebody else.”
In the years after his iconic World Series heroics, Fisk remained one of the best offensive catchers in all of baseball.
He was named to four additional All-Star teams during the rest of his tenure with Boston, in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980.
He played in Boston through the 1980 season, becoming the best Red Sox catcher in their long and storied history.
The Red Sox would not make another World Series appearance with Fisk as their backstop, but his contribution to the team and city cannot be overstated.
Despite his importance to the team and his continued performance, the Red Sox were reluctant to sign him to a contract extension, fearing the wear and tear on his body from catching would cause him to decline as the 1980s progressed.
Fisk felt the Red Sox’s lack of commitment to him was writing on the wall that the team was not planning to do whatever it took to win.
After the Red Sox traded teammates like Fred Lynn and offered Fisk a contract he thought was an insult, Fisk signed with the Chicago White Sox.
After wearing number 27 during his tenure in Boston, Fisk changed his number to 72, the opposite of 27, when another teammate had his prior number.
Looking forward to a fresh start with Chicago, Fisk and the White Sox opened the 1981 season on the road at Fenway Park.
Fisk hit his first home run in a White Sox uniform in the eighth inning against his former team.
In his first two seasons in Chicago, Fisk hit just 20 home runs and batted .265, but he missed quite a few games due to nagging injuries.
Injuries had been and would continue to be an issue for Fisk throughout the remainder of his career, but his dedication to conditioning and rehabilitation always allowed him to return and his production rarely suffered.
In both years, Fisk once again made the AL All-Star team, bringing his total to nine.
Fisk had an excellent 1983 season, regaining some power by hitting 26 home runs, driving in 86 runs, and batting .289.
The White Sox won the AL West for the first time in their history with a 99-63 record.
They faced the AL East champion Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS, losing in five games.
Fisk struggled in the series, and the White Sox went home empty-handed.
In 1984, Fisk was again struck by injuries and missed 60 games.
Following the season, Fisk worked with the White Sox trainer to develop a new and improved weightlifting program designed to speed up recovery and prevent injury.
In the season after, Fisk had one of the best years of his career.
He finished the 1985 season with a career-high 37 home runs and 107 RBI, making his 10th All-Star game.
His 37 home runs remain the most every hit in a season by an AL catcher.
The White Sox would not make it to the postseason again until 1993.
Despite the lack of postseason success, Fisk’s years in Chicago were incredibly productive despite the Red Sox’s fears about his durability and health.
While Fisk was injury-prone and missed time, he was still a productive hitter and more than capable behind the plate.
After his fantastic 1985 season, Fisk’s power reduced a bit, with him hitting over 20 home runs just once more time in his career in 1987.
— MLB Daily Dingers (@MLBDailyDingers) February 21, 2021
His offense remained above-average for a catcher even through his late 30s.
Fisk reached several milestones while wearing a White Sox uniform.
In August of 1990 against the Texas Rangers, Fisk passed Johnny Bench, the player he had been compared to his entire career, for most career home runs hit by a catcher.
Fisk ended his career with 351 home runs, a mark for a catcher only surpassed by Mike Piazza.
Fisk’s 351 home runs remain the most ever by an AL catcher.
In 1991, at the age of 43, Fisk was selected to his 11th and final All-Star Game, where he became the oldest player to record a hit in an All-Star game.
1993 was another year of ups and downs for Fisk. In June, Fisk passed Bob Boone for the most games ever caught in the Major Leagues.
The White Sox released Fisk not even a week later, as he was now 45 years old and was batting under .200.
While on a road trip in Cleveland, Fisk was notified that he had to fly back to Chicago immediately and that he was no longer a member of the team.
The animosity between Fisk and the White Sox grew later that year.
The White Sox had clinched a playoff spot, and Fisk went to the clubhouse to congratulate his former teammates but was asked to leave.
The relationship between Fisk and the team has only recently started to recover.
With his release, Fisk’s career came to an end.
In 10 years with the Red Sox and 14 years with the White Sox, Fisk hit 376 home runs, collected over 2,300 hits, batted .269, and accumulated 69 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
He was selected to 11 All-Star teams and won the Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP, three Silver Sluggers, and a Gold Glove.
He is one of just 31 players in baseball history to have appeared in games across four decades, making his debut in 1969 and making his last appearance in 1993.
Life After Baseball
Following his retirement, Fisk has been honored by both the Red Sox and White Sox.
The White Sox retired his number 72 on September 14, 1997, in a ceremony at Comiskey Park.
Four years after being unceremoniously released by the team, Fisk accepted their offer and made attempts to mend the relationship.
The Red Sox followed this lead in 2000 when they retired Fisk’s number 27 in a ceremony at Fenway Park in September of 2000.
In 2005, the Red Sox announced that Fenway Park’s left-field foul pole would now be called the Fisk Foul Pole, celebrating Fisk’s iconic World Series home run.
Fisk was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, his second year of eligibility.
He received 79 percent of the vote, becoming just the 13th catcher to be elected.
Joining him that year was Tony Perez, the Reds’ longtime first baseman and Fisk’s opponent in the 1975 World Series.
Upon his election, Fisk said,
“It’s been 35 years since I started playing, and I put my heart and soul and a lot of things on the back burner to even be considered for this. It’s quite a proud moment.”
In a controversial move, Fisk opted to wear a Red Sox hat on his Hall of Fame plaque over a White Sox hat despite playing with the White Sox longer.
Carlton Fisk is no doubt one of the greatest catchers to ever play Major League Baseball.
In a lengthy career that lasted parts of 24 seasons, Fisk set numerous records for catchers and helped his teams reach the postseason and a World Series.
Battling through injury for much of his career, Fisk is an icon in the cities of Boston and Chicago.
He was a sparkplug for both teams and became the Red Sox’s best catcher in decades and changed the dynamic of a sluggish White Sox franchise when they acquired him in 1983.
Playing in four different decades, especially as a catcher, is something we may never see again.
If Johnny Bench is the most iconic National League catcher, Fisk just might be the American League’s equivalent.