by Tom Simon
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Carlton Fisk's baseball career almost came to an end at Waterloo, Iowa, Boston's entry-level team in the Class A Midwest League. Despite batting .338 with twelve home runs in sixty-two games, he was despondent. Pudge's letters home show that the source of most of his frustration was the team's losing record. The Waterloo Hawks finished 56-68, 26.5 games behind the league-leading Cedar Rapids Cardinals. Losing was new and intolerable to Fisk.
|Fisk at Waterloo|
That year of Triple A ball became one year with Double A Pawtucket in 1970 and another with Triple A Louisville in 1971, but Fisk remained upbeat and continued to improve. At Louisville his manager was Darrell Johnson, whom he credited for making him a major leaguer. "Johnson taught me to think about all the important facets of the catcher's role, the things that help pitchers in various ways and those that let your teammates know you want to win," he told an interviewer in 1973. Johnson also helped Fisk improve his hitting. "When I put the equipment on, my job is defense: to get the other team out, help the pitchers get the batters, help the fielders-to run the game," Fisk said. "Once I take the equipment off, however, I stop thinking defense and start thinking offense." That new concentration resulted in a .263 average at Louisville, thirty-four points higher than his average the previous season at Pawtucket.
Despite his excellent play (.313 with two home runs) in fourteen games with Boston at the end of the 1971 season, Carlton Fisk was only the third-string catcher for the Red Sox in 1972. The starter was Duane Josephson, who'd batted .245 with ten home runs in '71 after coming to Boston in a trade with the White Sox. Bob Montgomery was the back-up. But when Josephson was injured in the second game of the season and rival baserunners were running at will on Montgomery, Fisk became a regular in Boston.
From the start, Carlton was a slugger. By June 15 the twenty-four-year-old rookie had collected thirty-two hits, twenty for extra bases. His average was .278 and his slugging percentage was .574. His confidence rose with his slugging average, which stood at .628 by July 12. He was beginning to attract attention. "Fisk is rapidly gaining the reputation of being the Johnny Bench of the American League," wrote Larry Claflin. In July Earl Weaver selected him to represent the A.L. in the All-Star Game in Atlanta. Fisk replaced Bill Freehan in the sixth inning and suddenly found himself playing against Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, whose bubble-gum cards he'd collected back in Charlestown.
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.