Carlton Fisk

There was a time, for a very long time, that the Boston front office treated their players with clinical efficiency. The Red Sox organization was one of the most conservative and stingy in the game. They were also reluctant to sign minority ballplayers, which is a nice way of saying that they were prejudiced. In the 1930s, stars like Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove had to battle for increases in their salaries, in the 40s and 50s it was Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr. Later, Carl Yastrezmski played the role of underpaid star on the team. Imagine how tough it was for regular players to get their due.

Fans of the team in 2012 may not realize it, but the Red Sox had a reputation for being tight asses and having fractured clubhouses for decades. During the Williams era there was the saying that when a game finished there were 25 players and 25 taxis leaving the ballpark. A stark contrast to the close-knit gang of self-described “Idiots” who won the 2004 World Series, for much of Boston history the team was dysfunctional. The superstars were either contentious and stubborn like Williams, aloof and uncharismatic like Yaz, or surly and grouchy like Jim Rice. Red Sox fans didn’t so much embrace their team as much as they admired their skills from a safe distance.

Carlton Fisk was one of the few Red Sox stars who seemed likable. He was tough, a great player, and he displayed enthusiasm for the game. After the 1980 season he had been in the Sox organization for 14 years, 11 with the big league club. “Pudge” had earned seven All-Star nods and won both the Rookie of the Year Award and a Gold Glove. His homer in Game Six of the ’75 World Series was how many New Englanders measured their sense of time. (“I was in the seventh grade watching the game with my dad when Fisk hit the homer,” they would say).

But Fisk was having his troubles with the front office too, and in December of 1980 with one year left on his contract he was not getting anywhere in negotiating an extension. Then the Red Sox front office screwed up: they mailed Fisk’s contract (and the contract of center fielder Fred Lynn) two days late. It was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, and the union quickly moved to file a motion that both players should immediately be free agents. Before they were awarded their request, Lynn was traded to the Angels, the Red Sox realizing they would lose and wanting to get some compensation. Fisk was freed and signed a multi-year, million-dollar contract with the Chicago White Sox. Red Sox fans were outraged, some at the players for leaving, but most of them at the stupidity of the front office.

Fisk was 33 years old, an age when most catchers are usually entering their final years of productivity. But he quickly warmed to the new color of his socks, and he went on to play 13 years for Chicago, finishing as high as third in MVP voting. He set a record for games caught and in 1990, at the age of 42, he caught almost 1,000 innings and received votes for MVP.

As a result of that front office snafu, which stemmed from the Red Sox established front office arrogance, Fisk isn’t eligible for the Boston All-Time Team. He played 1,078 games for the BoSox and 1,421 for the ChiSox.