The Boston Red Sox have the spotlight square on their catchers before the 2015 regular season starts. Starter Christian Vazquez is the young, injured talent bringing that media light to heat up debate on how the backups will turn out. The Red Sox may not know exactly how the future will turn out, but they don’t have to look too hard to find a model of success in their past.
You’ve heard of the man in question, yet how many young fans in Red Sox Nation know anything about Carlton Fisk? Like much of our society, today, the children grow up with legends and folklore spread around them, without retaining much of it.
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Is too much school work the problem? Cell phones, perhaps? Maybe video games? You see so many children playing a video game, pretending to be the players of long past, after unlocking a code to the legends section. Many potential All-Stars will give up the possibility and choose to live out a passion vicariously, instead of playing a real game outside, with a player they’ve heard their parents or television speak of, but never know anything of the real man. They take on the persona, without giving reflection on how his achievements set the bar for those, like themselves, who came afterwards.
Fisk, the 6′ 3″ native of Vermont, nicknamed Pudge, was a hard-worker who earned eleven All-Star appearances, seven of those honors with the Red Sox. In his rookie season, which earned him the Rookie of the Year Award, Fisk hit .293, with 9 triples, 22 home runs, and 61 RBIs, in 1972. He won the Gold Glove Award for his fielding, that year, which helped to rank him fourth in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Not bad for a rookie.
It explains why the Red Sox drafted him fourth in the first round of the 1967 amateur draft. It took until 1981 for the Red Sox to grant him free agency, but he just kept playing at a high level for another twelve seasons with the Chicago White Sox. In 24 seasons, Fisk played one of the most difficult positions an athlete can play, concerning the physical toll it takes to perform. To take that pounding, especially on your knees at Fisk’s height, and to still be considered one of the best in the world at what you do, after so many seasons, his career is definitely one for young catchers to model.
For those unfamiliar with JAWS, it’s not the movie; it’s the Jaffee WAR Score system that was developed by its namesake Jay Jaffee, a sabermetrician. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the system was developed “as a means to measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness. A player’s JAWS is their career WAR averaged with their 7-year peak WAR. The current Hall of Famers are then grouped by position and a position average JAWS is computed.” For catchers, Fisk is ranked fourth in the entire history of baseball, just behind Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Ivan Rodriguez, who is also nicknamed ‘Pudge’.
That’s some pretty impressive, legendary company.
What made Fisk great was his work ethic and balance at offense and defense. He could hit very well, which is why he was used as a designated hitter, too, either to give him a day off of catching or rehabbing an injury. Fisk hit a career .269, with 376 home runs and 1330 RBIs. Yet, his fielding percentage (.988) as a catcher varied very little throughout his career.
He may have played more seasons in Chicago (13) than in Boston (11), but he will always be burned into society’s memory as one of the Red Sox, after his hit in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series:
The Red Sox may have lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games, but people remember Fisk’s shuffle, waving his hands to keep the ball fair, before the hit became, officially, a home run. The gesticulation became so popular because it represented our childhood innocence, thinking that we can summon some imaginary power to make events happen. The desperation and intense joy of the moment ingrained Fisk’s wish into the hearts of every baseball fan or anyone praying for success, if just that one moment held on to victory.
So how could they release him? Well, when you anger the boss, it can happen really quick. “Fisk was reportedly among a group of several Red Sox players who lobbied Boston management for players to be paid what they deserved, which made him none too popular with Haywood Sullivan, the Boston general manager. When Fisk’s contract expired at the end of the 1980 season, Sullivan in fact mailed him a new contract, but put it in the mail one day after the contractual deadline.”
Seems pretty dirty.
Oct 30, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox former catcherCarlton Fisk
at a press conference before game six of the MLB baseball World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Instead of communicating fairly, the boss let one of the best players to ever put on a Red Sox uniform leave Boston for nothing. He should have taken a tip from Fisk, considering how great he was in handling his pitching staff. That’s the proper word, because a good catcher has to help his pitchers or they will not be successful. A catcher has to properly handle his pitcher’s mindset so that he can deliver the proper technique and strategy for each opposing batter. Fisk was so good at helping his pitchers visualize and attack, that nobody wanted to see Fisk leave. “It is said that when Fisk left the Red Sox in 1981 as a free agent, Boston concessionaires moaned. With Fisk gone, there would be much less time to sell their wares.”
Fisk’s durability, ability to overcome injuries, combined with his skills at the plate and on the field made him a star, in the hearts of many baseball fans, including the Red Sox faithful. His leadership and control were some of the best ever seen in Major League Baseball. If Vazquez wants to be as successful as Fisk was, earning Hall-Of-Fame status in 2000, he will need to learn all of those skills. The young man has the defensive skills, and he is working on his bat, but having Tommy John surgery on Thursday to his right elbow will be his biggest test. He will need to recover, just like Fisk did, if he wishes to be around for a long time.
Maybe, one day, Vazquez can be a legend, too. But, for now, let Fisk be the model plan for the youth to follow. Some men dream of it, some men pretend to be it, but real men really live it. Let the real man teach.
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