Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Card #111: Carlton Fisk In Action

Who Can It Be Now?
It's still Carlton Ernest Fisk. This card always perplexed me as a youth because it was about the only card in the set that is properly displaying horizontally -- as above -- rather than vertically:

When we left off last week at the end of Fisk's Red Sox career and at the start of his White Sox career, I mentioned that the contract to which the White Sox and Fisk agreed looked like it had the potential to be an albatross around the White Sox's collective necks due to its length and Fisk's age.  

There is no doubt, though, that the contract turned out well for both Fisk and for the Sox. The five seasons on that initial contract were five of Fisk's most productive years. He averaged 125 games a season, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 10 SB, and slashed at .258/.332/.454. The most productive season of the five by WAR was 1983 (26 HR, 86 RBI, .289/.355/.518) -- a year in which Fisk finished third in the MVP race behind Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray and helped lead the White Sox to the ALCS where they lost to those Orioles.

After the 1985 season, Fisk signed back up with the White Sox for two seasons. He re-signed with the Sox for four more seasons before the 1988 season, re-signed for one year after the 1991 season, and then signed again in 1993. 

During his much of his White Sox career, however, Fisk had a rocky relationship with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The issues may have started back in 1985, when the White Sox were trying to sign Fisk to a contract and then trade him to the New York Yankees. For the Sox to trade Fisk, they needed his permission, and he would not give it freely. Indeed, both he and Don Baylor (for whom Fisk was to be traded) wanted money to waive their no-trade clauses. That never happened, so the Sox were content to swap Ron Hassey and Britt Burns instead. Later, in January, Fisk simply re-signed with the White Sox since, after all, this was the era of collusion.

Despite all that, Fisk did not complain about the size of his contract. He felt that renegotiating a contract was a character flaw and that those guys wanting to renegotiate were crybabies. By his last two seasons in baseball, however, the White Sox had committed to starting Ron Karkovice. Fisk played only 62 games in 1992 (aged 44), and his hitting was commensurate with being a backup catcher -- .229/.313/.309.

Recognizing Fisk's decline, the White Sox organization wanted to protect itself -- and its future -- by signing Fisk to a minor-league deal for the 1993 season. Fisk balked at signing the deal because it was a minor-league contract, whereas the organization pointed out that that was a technicality so that the Sox would not have to use a 40-man roster spot on Fisk. The result: Jerry Reinsdorf took to the media. He was quoted as saying:
He's 45 years old; it's time he grew up. I'm sick and tired of him acting like a baby. He believes he has been mistreated, but nobody has ever been catered to here more than Carlton Fisk. He's a prima donna. He must think he's Michael Jackson.  
Here's a guy who doesn't like anybody and is always unhappy, yet no one ever writes it. Everyone is afraid of him. I don't know why.
Fisk wanted to hang around one more year at the age of 45 for at least one personal reason, though, so eventually he caved and signed a contract. The reason, of course, was that he wanted to set the record for most appearances at catcher. On June 22, 1993, he did that, making his 2,226th appearance behind the plate in his major league career. That game served as a going away party of sorts, as his White Sox teammates chipped in and bought him a motorcycle, which Bo Jackson drove onto the field for him. Fisk's wife Linda also received a diamond bracelet from the team, and the White Sox made a $25,000 donation to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Then, a week later, the White Sox were in Cleveland to play the Indians when the decided that that was the time to release Fisk. As the AP wire story put it, that move was "long expected because of the 45-year-old's feud with management over his diminished playing time as he chased the ironman catching record." So, one game past Bob Boone, Fisk was done.

The hurt over his treatment in 1993 -- and possibly his New England background -- led Fisk to choose to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  He and the White Sox eventually patched things up, however -- first, retiring his number 72 (the reverse of the 27 he wore in Boston, which is also retired) in 1997, then erecting a statue outside Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field of him in 2005. Finally, in 2008, the White Sox hired Fisk as a "team ambassador," a position in which Fisk still serves today.

Mustache Check: See, I let 5 days go by and I forget to cover this. Of course, it doesn't matter.

Family Ties 
In my haste last week to write the long tale of all of Carlton's athletic nieces and nephews, I neglected to mention Carlton's own daughter, Carlyn. She played volleyball at the University of Illinois-Chicago in the early 1990s even though she was just 5'7" tall.

Carlton appeared in a 2009 documentary called The Lost Son of Havana about former Red Sox pitcher and teammate Luis Tiant. The documentary featured Tiant returning to Cuba after 46 years in exile.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
It seems these second cards of Hall of Famers are more difficult to write than the first ones are. Or, at least they take longer.

So, today, two items. First, an interesting tidbit about Carlton Fisk's most famous TV moment.  Everyone knows the clip:

The interesting tidbit to me is that this homerun changed the way that TV covered sports wholly by happenstance.  As reported at The Sporting News in April of 2012, up to that time, the cameras focused on the ball and the game play. Player reactions were ignored. But everyone knows Fisk's reaction -- with him waving the ball fair -- because of a rat. The cameraman, Lou Gerard, tells this story:
There were some rats running around. With Fisk coming up, Harry Coyle, who was the director at the time, he told me, "Lou, you have to follow the ball if he hits it." I said, "Harry, I can't, I've got a rat on my leg that's as big as a cat. It's staring me in the face. I'm blocked by a piece of metal on my right." So he said, "What are we going to do?" I said, "How about if we stay with Fisk, see what happens?"
The second item is simply whether Carlton Fisk belongs in the Hall of Fame. Stories in 1993 -- such as this one from the Chicago Tribune -- took it as a fait accompli that Fisk was an automatic for induction when his time came around. 

Bill James's statistical measures for induction are not as convinced. The "Black Ink" measure of leading the league in categories results in Fisk getting just 1 point (average HOFer -- 27). The "Gray Ink" measure is similarly lukewarm, with Fisk totaling 54 points for finishing in the top 10 in offensive categories -- and the average HOFer is around 144 points. On the other hand, the James Hall of Fame Monitor puts Fisk at 120, with a likely HOFer at 100; the James Hall of Fame Standards has him at 49 (average HOFer is 50).  

JAWS is kinder to Fisk, in large part due to the fact that JAWS compares him to catchers. Fisk also was helped by some intangible measures -- retiring as the all-time leader in home runs among catchers (since passed by Mike Piazza) and as the all-time leader in games played at catcher (since passed by Ivan Rodriguez).

It's difficult to believe that Fisk came up just two years after Johnny Bench and 5 years before Gary Carter -- Fisk retired after both of them.  Fisk's numbers place him squarely third of those three in the conversation of "best ever" at the position.  Still, being third of the three best of all time -- perhaps now behind Ivan Rodriguez -- is nothing to sneeze at.

While I don't think it was ever a "no-brainer", I do believe that Carlton Fisk is a deserving member of the Hall of Fame.  It does not matter if I liked the guy or not -- he was an excellent, though irascible, player who always gave everything he had to win. He made his teams better -- and the stats prove this.

So, yes, Carlton Fisk is an easy HOFer.

1 comment:

  1. I still can't believe Piazza didn't get in first ballot. I'm guessing voters will make Ivan Rodriguez wait too. Voters are too tough on catchers.