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FISK, CARLTON

He's often said that the smartest thing he did in baseball was become a catcher. The mask and glove were never tools of ignorance for Carlton Fisk. Nicknamed "Pudge" in his youth because of his stocky build, he emerged as not only one of the best catchers of his era, but as one of the best ever.

Fisk played 24 seasons in the majors, retiring as baseball's all-time leader in games caught with 2,226 and in home runs by a catcher with 351. (He lost the latter record in 2004 when Mike Piazza passed him). Fisk's .269 lifetime batting average with 376 homers and 1,330 RBI are proof that he could do more than call a good game.

He also became a New England hero. The image of Fisk finessing his ball fair for a home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series is one that will endure as long as the game is played.

Fisk's work ethic and drive for perfection established him as a role model. His ultimate honor came in January 2000, when he became the 13th catcher voted into the Hall of Fame.

"Catching is such a unique position," Fisk said. "Sometimes lost in the shuffle is just how difficult catching is. As a result, some of what you do gets lost in the shuffle."

Born on Dec. 26, 1947 in Bellows Falls, Vt., he was raised on a farm with three brothers and two sisters just across the state line in Charlestown, N.H. Fisk's father Cecil, a machinist and part-time farmer, was an exceptional tennis player who demanded excellence from his children. Fisk's mother Leona was an accomplished softball player.

Carlton was a standout pitcher in high school, but baseball wasn't his primary focus. He was a bigger star in basketball, scoring 40 points and grabbing 30 rebounds in the semifinals of the New Hampshire high school tournament. From Fisk's sophomore to senior years, the basketball team went 49-3.

"What I really wanted to be was a power forward for the Boston Celtics," Fisk said.

Though he accepted a basketball scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, his focus soon turned to baseball. In January 1967 - after playing fewer than 100 games in high school and college - the Red Sox made him the fourth pick in the amateur draft.

Boston was attracted by his athleticism; Fisk was 6-foot-3 and seemed to have potential as a hitter. "At the time I signed, I really didn't believe the Red Sox wanted me," he said. "It was like, 'We'll sign our token New England boy and make all the New England people happy.'

The Boston hero hits the most memorable home run in Red Sox history.I didn't really believe they thought I was going to make very much of myself."

His major league debut came in 1969, when he appeared in two games for the Red Sox, going 0-for-5. After spending all of 1970 and most of 1971 back in the minors, Fisk became Boston's starting catcher in 1972. He was named American League Rookie of the Year for hitting .293, with 22 homers, 61 RBI and tying for the league lead in triples with nine. He also was selected to his first of 11 All-Star teams and won the only Gold Glove award of his career after leading AL catchers in putouts and assists.

Two years later, on June 28, 1974, Fisk suffered his first major injury, torn knee ligaments in a collision at home plate that ended his season. Given little chance of playing again by doctors after undergoing reconstructive surgery, Fisk returned for spring training in 1975. But in his second exhibition game he couldn't avoid a pitch that broke his left forearm and sidelined him until June.

He returned to hit .331 with 10 homers and 52 RBI in 79 games, helping the Red Sox to a division title. They won their first pennant in eight years by sweeping the Oakland A's in the playoffs, with Fisk hitting .417.

But Fisk's big moment came in Game 6 of the World Series. His 12th-inning homer down the leftfield line off Cincinnati Reds pitcher Pat Darcy gave Boston a 7-6 victory and ranks among the most dramatic hits in Series history.

Fisk's dramatic homer in 1975 set up a decisive seventh game, which the Red Sox lost, 4-3.The game-ending blast set the stage for Game 7, which the Red Sox lost 4-3. That was the last time Fisk played in a World Series.

Fisk became an iron man in 1977-78, catching a combined 309 games, one short of the major league record over two seasons. In 1977, he became only the fifth catcher to score 100 runs and drive in 100 in the same season.

It was during these years that Fisk and the New York Yankees' Thurman Munson battled for the distinction of being the AL's top catcher. "Anytime we play against each other, it's a big thing personally," Fisk said in the 1970s.

Fisk received the satisfaction of starting the All-Star Game over Munson in 1977 and '78, but it was Munson who received a World Series ring both those years. Following the 1980 season, Fisk became a free agent when the Red Sox missed a deadline for mailing him a contract. He signed a $3.5 million, five-year contract with the Chicago White Sox, and traded his familiar No. 27 for 72, saying he was at the turning point of his life.

At the time, the White Sox believed Fisk had only a few good seasons left. Little did they know he would end up playing more seasons in Chicago than in Boston. "He played hard and he played hurt," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "He demanded much of himself, from his teammates and his opponents."

Fisk returned to the postseason in 1983, a year in which he hit 26 homers for the third time. But he batted only .176 in the ALCS as the Baltimore Orioles beat the White Sox in four games.

The following year he became the first White Sox player to hit for the cycle in Comiskey Park. He belted 21 home runs that season but drove in only 43 runs, the fewest RBI ever for a player with 20 Homers.

In 1985 he produced the biggest offensive numbers of his career, 37 homers and 107 RBI, and set an AL record for homers by a catcher with 33.

Fisk broke his right hand in 1988, shortening his season to 76 games, but passed Rick Ferrell's AL record by catching his 1,807th contest.

In 1990, Fisk hit his 328th homer as a catcher, breaking the mark held by the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Bench. The homer also made Fisk the White Sox all-time home run leader.

The following season, the 43-year-old Fisk managed to produce 18 homers and 74 RBI. Also in 1991, he became the oldest player to get a hit in the All-Star Game.

On June 22, 1993, Fisk broke Bob Boone's major league record by catching his 2,226th game.

His .269 lifetime batting average with 376 homers and 1,330 RBI are proof that Fisk could do more than call a good game.It was the last time he wore the tools of ignorance. Six days later, the White Sox released him. He was batting .189 with one homer and four RBI in 53 at-bats.

He finished as one of only three catchers - Bench and Yogi Berra are the others - with at least 300 homers, 1,000 RBI and 1,000 runs.

Since retiring, Fisk has spent time as a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Illinois State, where his son Casey was a catcher. In 1999, he rejoined the Red Sox as a special assistant to the general manager.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility, he changed his mind and had a Red Sox cap put on his plaque.

About his career, he said, "I gave everything I had to the game. I feel very proud that I was a giver and not a taker."

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