7 The Fisk-Carlton
I owe a long-overdue apology to a college professor for an early morning class I missed in the fall of 1975 while attending Northeastern University. You see, there was Game 6 of the ’75 World Series to take in, and when it didn’t end until 12:34 AM, the chances of making that 8:00 AM class were, in a word, slim. Actually, thank Carlton Fisk, a Bellows Falls, Vermont-born and New Hampshire-raised catcher extraordinaire, for at least ending the night (or morning) at a reasonable hour. It was his walk-off twelfth-inning homer — we’ve all seen the video millions of times:
Fisk waving his arms, jumping up and down as he tried to guide his drive off Pat Darcy down the line to fair territory — that ended the night. The ball clanged off the foul pole. Ah, the power of body language! The spectators in the bleachers couldn’t believe it. This was the type of history I couldn’t learn in a classroom, anyway. Was it the energy he created by jumping up and down and willing it fair that pushed the ball into play? I buy it. The Sox won 7-6, staved off elimination, and lived to see Game 7.
Fisk called it, “the most emotional game I’ve ever played” and said, “I will never forget this as long as I live.”
No one will.
Fisk, a 1972 American League rookie of the year, was a once-in-
a-generation catching talent. He was drafted by the Red Sox in the winter before the Impossible Dream season in 1967. He could do it all — hit, run well, at least for a big guy (to which his nine triples in 1972 attest), and call a heck of a game. He handled a pitching staff as well as any backstop in the game. He caught more games than any catcher in history, with 2,226. He hit 376 home runs and played in 11 All-Star Games.
Fisk had a bitter departure from the Red Sox in the winter of 1980 when owners Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux failed to mail him a contract by the December 20 deadline, totally misreading the Basic Agreement. Fisk became a free agent and signed with the Chicago White Sox on March 18, 1981, at the age of 33. He played in Chicago until he was 45.
“I think every guy, kid, athlete who has grown up in New England fantasizes about playing for the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park, wearing the Red Sox uniform, and I was fortunate enough to realize that fairy tale,” Fisk told The Boston Globe. “A lot of fairy tales have been told, and in every one of them, there’s a scary part, an unpleasant part, but they all culminate with happy endings.”
Even though Fisk spent more seasons in Chicago (13) than he did Boston (11), he went into Cooperstown wearing a Red Sox cap after reconnecting with the Red Sox after many years away. He had his No. 27 retired by the Red Sox; the White Sox did the same with his No. 72.
Fisk was known for his unique and intense training regimen in Chicago, which kept him behind the backstop until he was 45 years old. He was a rugged, tough guy who had classic clashes with Yankees catcher Thurman Munson. The Fisk-Munson competition was the essence of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. Their classic confrontation on August 1, 1973, at Fenway in a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth inning — when Munson tried to score on Gene Michael’s botched suicide-squeeze bunt attempt — will never be forgotten. Munson came at Fisk full-bore, triggering a fight at the plate and a bench-clearing brawl that lasted almost 10 minutes and resulted in both Fisk and Munson being ejected. Fisk also fought with Lou Piniella, the fiery Yankees outfielder, on May 20, 1976. It was a similar situation. Piniella crashed into Fisk trying to score on an Otto Velez single, triggering another brawl. A “satellite brawl” ensued moments later between Bill Lee and Graig Nettles, in which Lee separated his shoulder.
“We didn’t like each other,” said Fisk. “It was true rivalry where each team tried to kick each other’s behind every time we played. It was intense, but it was fun. We wanted to win those games so badly. We looked forward to them and I think the fans loved them. We put on a good show.”