For 24 big league seasons, Carlton Fisk defined what it was to be a big league catcher.
And right from the start, Fisk impressed teammates, opponents and the voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Forty years ago this week – on Nov. 21, 1972 – Fisk was named the American League’s Rookie of the Year, receiving all 24 votes in the BBWAA balloting. He became the first unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year Award, dating back to 1949 when the award was first presented to players in each league.
Fisk seemed destined for greatness when the Red Sox took him with the fourth overall pick in the January 1967 MLB Draft. After brief stints as a September call-up in both 1969 and 1971, Fisk made the club out of Spring Training in 1972 and quickly established himself as Boston’s everyday catcher. The 24-year-old Fisk appeared in 131 of the Red Sox’s 155 games in that strike-shortened season, batting .293 with 28 doubles, 22 home runs and 61 RBI. He also legged out an AL-leading nine triples, tying with Joe Rudi for the league lead and making him the most recent catcher to lead his league in triples. He was named the AL Gold Glove Award winner and finished fourth in the AL Most Valuable Player voting.
Fisk’s Red Sox missed the playoffs that year by the slimmest of margins, falling one-half game short of the Detroit Tigers in the AL East race. The Tigers played one more game that year due to lost games from the strike which were not made up.
Fisk was disconsolate after the Red Sox were eliminated on the next-to-last day of the season, hanging his head at his locker as Sox owner Tom Yawkey thanked the players – including Fisk – for their effort.
Fisk hit 26 homers in 1973 before batting injuries the next two seasons. But after returning to the field in late 1975, Fisk helped the Red Sox to the World Series – where his 12-inning home run off the left field foul pole at Fenway Park in Game 6 remains the stuff of legend.
Fisk, known throughout his career as “Pudge,” moved on to the White Sox in 1981 as a free agent, and continued to add to his reputation as one of the game’s most durable backstops, appearing in 137 games at 42 years old in 1990 and 134 more the following year.
“Pudge works harder than anyone I know, because he sets goals for himself and then follows through,” said former White Sox manager Jim Fregosi. “I think he’s the ultimate professional.”
When he retired following the 1993 season, Fisk owned the record for most games caught (2,226), a mark since surpassed by Ivan Rodriguez. He amassed 376 home runs and was named to 11 All-Star teams.
Fisk was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum