Red Sox Carlton Fisk: A Book That Captures The Icon


With the holiday season in full swing, author Doug Wilson has written the first biography about the Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and it’s for sale.

How is it possible that Carlton Fisk, arguably the greatest Boston Red Sox catcher of all time, has never had a true biography written about him before? Well, it’s because Fisk is a very private person, who has been burned by the media over the years on multiple occasions. Those occasions are just a few of the memorable moments that Doug Wilson has captured in the first published biography of the man affectionately known as ‘Pudge’, on shelves now for the holiday season.

Wilson is an ophthalmologist, which is mentioned in his baseball blog, who grew up loving the game of baseball in his early years. That passion never left him, as he has now written three books on the subject. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, famously known by baseball experts as SABR, which allows him access to an incredible wealth of resources for his writings.

However, for the Fisk book, Wilson has spoken to many people, including Fisk and his family, to gather as much of the true story as he could. Considering Fisk’s well-known stance on the media, it was likely the major reason why nobody wrote about Fisk before.

Bill Nowlin of The Boston Globe did his own review of the book titled Pudge: The Biography Of Carlton Fisk, and mentions:

"Wilson’s book is based on over 100 interviews with members of Fisk’s family, high-school coach Ralph Silva, and numerous school friends and teammates over the years. He’s been meticulous in his research, even to the point of noting Fisk’s ID number in the Army Reserves."

Wilson’s careful attention to detail is very evident in the book, as he takes an approach that not many biographers do: he doesn’t romanticize the protagonist. He gives a fair account of the times before, during, and after Fisk’s career, including quotations from Fisk’s competitors and biggest rivals or doubters, and lets the reader decide whether to agree or disagree with the Hall-of-Fame catcher.

Isn’t that refreshing for once?

In no way is this book review suggesting that Wilson’s work is an indictment of Fisk, like Al Stump’s legendary biography Cobb, regarding the infamous Ty Cobb. If anything, by providing so many facts, the reader feels that they can relax and trust Wilson’s account, which the evidence seems to lean towards Fisk being remembered as a tough, blue-collar man with a large heart for his teammates and his family, even after his very public breakup with the Red Sox and his move to the Chicago White Sox.

Instead of discussing Fisk’s baseball statistics to prove why every baseball fan, not just from Boston or Chicago, should read a copy of this book, the most important thing that they should know is about how much of the heart and soul of the author himself is included.

Wilson takes the time to dive into Fisk’s family lineage, to give a sense that Fisk was born to become the man that he is now. When discussing Fisk’s parents, they are described like superheroes who never wanted to take pride, or even credit, for anything: “And there is the Fisk work ethic in a nutshell: Don’t complain, just do it; because it is there and has to be done. It was a work ethic ingrained in the DNA of their children and reinforced by daily example.” The Fisks from Charlestown, New Hampshire “never locked their door” because all of the kids around town were welcome, and “there was always a crowd there,” implying that everyone loved the Fisks before Pudge was famous.

As the book progresses through Fisk’s life, the reader gets the same welcoming feeling. While “Carlton is remembered as a friendly kid who got along with everyone,” Wilson makes it clear that Fisk’s amazing sense of competition was always accompanied by his parents’ family values: “They had ways of keeping guys grounded.” The words themselves speak of Wilson’s wry smile at how this mountain of a man was always kept humbled by his family, like the author and the reader are at the Fisk dinner table and witnessing the evolution of a good man, not just a great athlete.

That family atmosphere would not be lost on the New Englanders of today, as Wilson stays true to remind everyone that Fisk is one of their own, throughout the book. “Indeed, of the 17 baseball Hall of Famers from New England, Carlton Fisk would be the only one of them who played after World War II, when players from warm-weather states took over the game.” That’s the real beauty of Wilson’s work. He understands what Fisk means to his hometown and to any New Englander, so he consistently refers back to these roots as he discusses all of his accomplishments.

When he hit the big home run in Game 6 of the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, he rounded the bases with everyone on his shoulders, carrying their hopes and dreams with him. And, Wilson makes sure that the reader knows that “No matter what else [Fisk] would do for the rest of his life, he would always be remembered for this home run, remembered for his three-second dance up the first base line. He would always be remembered.” The repetition in Wilson’s textual voice resonates with the reader to fully understand that the home run was not just for the Red Sox, but for an entire group of people who stood behind one of their own in the batter’s box that night.

From the occasional dig at Fisk’s greatest rivals, the New York Yankees, Wilson flavors his words for who would be his main audience. While discussing how the Red Sox had to play the Yankees at Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets, Wilson refers to Shea as “temporary quarters while Yankee Stadium was being converted to the House That George Built.” Was that for George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth or George Steinbrenner, Mr. Wilson? It doesn’t really matter, as many of Red Sox Nation would joke that maybe Steinbrenner wouldn’t have known either.

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Between the witty sense of humor, the careful attention to detail, and the incredible stories behind those famous moments in Fisk’s life, Wilson creates a very enjoyable read of a man who happens to be a legend. All of the record-breaking, history-making, heart-aching, nail-biting, wheelin’-and-dealin’, and fist-flying parts to Fisk’s life are all on record in this book. His issues with both Red Sox and White Sox management, through 1969 to 1993, including his part in creating the free agent market that we have today, are all on display from every angle that someone could approach the subject matter. Every baseball fan worth his salt must take the time to read Wilson’s book, if they truly consider themselves real connoisseurs of the game, as Fisk’s life affected how the game was played, paid for, and how it was viewed by the public (check out the chapter of cameraman Louis Gerard, the rat gnawing on him, and the NBC executives for details).