Seasons in Boston: 1969, 1971-1980
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, 1972 AL Rookie of the Year, 11x All-Star, Gold Glove, 3x Silver Slugger
Red Sox Numbers: .285/.379/.462, 162 HR, 627 R, 568 RBI, 61 SB, 129 wRC+, 38.3 fWAR
Signature Season (1977): .315/.402/.521, 26 HR, 106 R, 102 RBI, 7 SB, 143 wRC+, 7.6 fWAR
There is nothing New Englanders love more than one of their own. Carlton Fisk was born in Vermont, raised in New Hampshire, and drafted fourth overall by his hometown Red Sox in 1967. Though Fisk played less than half his career in Boston, he went into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the Red Sox and his number 27 will never be worn again by the hometown club. Many of the decisions I made when making this list were difficult, but this one was as easy as it gets. Fisk is without a doubt the best catcher ever to play for the Red Sox.
Fisk’s career numbers jump off the page, making his greatness known to anyone with a few minutes to visit his FanGraphs page. He ranks fourth all time in fWAR behind only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and the other Pudge, Iván Rodríguez. His 2226 games played at catcher rank second behind only Rodríguez, but when he retired in 1993 at the end of a 22-year career he ranked first. Offensively he ranks third at the position in home runs, runs and stolen bases (in the modern era), and sixth in RBI.
Defensively he was also excellent, ranking eight in assists, ninth in putouts and never shying from contact at the plate. By all reports he was an aggressive game caller, worked well with the pitching staff, was adept at blocking pitches in the dirt and had a great throwing arm. He was the complete package.
When Fisk was drafted he was raw. He was a multi-sport athlete who was attending UNH on a basketball scholarship. Growing up in New Hampshire the baseball season was painfully short so he needed time to develop in the minor leagues in order to become a complete player. By 1972, Fisk had secured the starting catching job, and as a 24-year-old rookie he would go on to become the first unanimous Rookie of the Year, win his only career Gold Glove, and finish fourth in the American League MVP race. His final batting line for his 1972 season was .293/.370/.538 with a 165 wRC+, a mark even better than Bench’s 156 and tops among catchers.
In the nine seasons that Fisk was the Red Sox starting catcher he made the All-Star team seven times. In the most important season of his career, 1975, he failed to make it because he was coming off a few major injuries. In 1974, Fisk was run into at home plate, tearing ligaments in his knee and injuring his back. After successfully rehabbing in the offseason he was hit by a pitch that broke his forearm in spring training. Because of all this, Fisk’s season debut was delayed until June 23. He didn’t miss a beat when he did return, though, proving to be just as good, if not better. He finished that year hitting .331/.395/.529 with ten home runs in 79 games.
The 1975 team was loaded. In addition to Fisk they had rookie phenoms Fred Lynn and Jim Rice who would go on to take first and second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Lynn would also win the MVP. Veterans Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli led the clubhouse and Fisk’s excellent game calling helped Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, and Rick Wise to each win 17 or more games. The club finished with 95 wins to win AL East by 4.5 games over the Yankees. In the ALCS vs the A’s, Fisk batted .417. The Red Sox swept the A’s and went on to play the Reds in the World Series.
The 1975 World Series is considered by many to be the greatest ever played, and in fact just a few days ago Sam Miller of ESPN ranked it as such. Five of the seven games in the series were decided by one run, with two of the games needing extra innings. In Game Six of the series Fisk led off the bottom of the 12th with the game tied 6-6. This one was a battle of two heavyweights with the Red Sox jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first, only to lose it and battle back in the eighth on a Bernie Carbo three-run blast. Fisk connected with the second pitch he saw and famously waved at the ball, desperately hoping to contain it within the bounds of fair play. It hit the foul pole in left field now named for Fisk and sent the series to a Game Seven. He would post an OPS .923 in the series, but ultimately the Red Sox would lose.
His 1977 season was his best from a statistical standpoint and his 7.6 fWAR is the 16th best single-season mark by a catcher in baseball history. The Red Sox would win 99 games in 1978, but Bucky Dent made sure they didn’t see the postseason. Fisk would only ever play in the postseason one other time, with the Chicago White Sox. After the 1980 season negotiations soured with the Red Sox and the White Sox offered him substantially more money to join their club. He would go on to 1421 games with them accumulating another 30.1 fWAR with a .257/.329/.438 batting line. After his playing days ended Fisk returned to Boston as a special assistant to the GM Dan Duquette. His number was retired on September 4, 2000. He gave this explanation for choosing to represent the Red Sox in the Baseball Hall of Fame, “I would like to say that this has always been my favorite hat, and I will be wearing this hat probably for the rest of my career.”
Introduction and Honorable Mentions Part One