For the 1972 season, Fisk caught 131 games and batted .293 with twenty-two home runs. His accomplishments earned him selection as the American League's Rookie of the Year, the first player ever to receive the honor by a unanimous vote. He also won the Gold Glove for A.L. catchers and finished fourth in balloting for the A.L.'s Most Valuable Player. In a testament to the times, Pudge's salary reportedly rose from $18,000 to $30,000, which, according to Claflin, was "as big a pay raise as any player in the game."
The Red Sox had been searching for a quality receiver ever since the Birdie Tebbetts/Sammy White era of 1948-59. In Fisk they finally had a tough, productive, intelligent, and dependable backstop. "If you play against him you hate him," said manager Eddie Kasko, "but if you play with him and want to win, you love him. He plays as if he were on the Crusades."
The dreaded sophomore jinx caught up to Carlton Fisk in the second half of the 1973 season. Batting .303 on June 23, he hit only .228 in July, .198 in August, and .186 in September. The extended slump was nothing compared to challenges soon to come. At Municipal Stadium on June 28, 1974, the Red Sox and Indians were deadlocked at 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Cleveland's Leron Lee rounded third and crashed into the fully-extended Fisk, who was reaching for a high relay throw from Mario Guerrero. Pudge tore ligaments in his left knee. "My career was supposed to be over," he recalled. "I was supposed to walk with a limp and have chronic back problems the rest of my life."
But Fisk returned in 1975, and the long, lonely hours spent in rehabilitation made a lasting impression on him. Though for years the knee injury hampered his ability to throw out baserunners, he feels that it may have been a blessing. "In some ways, hurting my knee was one of the best things ever to happen to my off-season psyche," Fisk said while still an active player. "Now, everything I do is programmed toward getting ready to play baseball. Before, winter was just a time to have fun hacking around the basketball court." His obsession with conditioning was the secret to his twenty-two-year career in the majors. Though injuries continued to plague him-in all, he spent over five and one-half seasons on the disabled list-he always managed to return, allowing him to catch in 2,229 games, the most in major league history. "More than the home runs, it's the longevity that stands out as his greatest achievement," says high school coach Silva.
After coming back from the 1974 knee surgery, Fisk was hit by a pitched ball in spring training and broke his forearm. Returning to a standing ovation on June 23, 1975, Pudge hit .331 over the remainder of the season to lead the Red Sox to the A.L. East title. Fisk batted .417 against the Oakland A's in the League Championship Series, but his greatest heroics were yet to come.
From Green Mountain Boys of Summer: Vermonters in the Major Leagues 1882-1993. Edited by Tom Simon. Copyright © 2000 by Tom Simon.
Reprinted with the permission of The New England Press, Inc., P.O. Box 575, Shelburne, VT 05482.