by Tom Simon
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Fisk was named to the A.L. All-Star Team seven times during his tenure in Boston. During one pennant race when his team was battling the Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver said, "The guy they'd hate to lose most, even more than Rice, is Fisk." In determining Fisk's importance, consider that in 1980 the Sox were 68-44 when he was behind the plate, 15-33 when he was not. Yet by 1981 Fisk was questioning whether the Red Sox front office really wanted him. Contract negotiations proceeded slowly, then general manager Haywood Sullivan blundered by failing to mail his contract on time, making him a free agent.
The Red Sox offered Fisk a guaranteed $2 million plus incentives. The perenially non-contending Chicago White Sox, for whom Fisk's acquisition would create instant credibility, offered $3.5 million. Nevertheless, the decision to leave Boston was difficult. After the Red Sox traded Rick Burleson, Butch Hobson, and Fred Lynn to the California Angels that winter, however, Fisk questioned Boston's commitment to winning. Conversely, the White Sox, with new owners Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf, were improving. Fisk decided to sign with Chicago.
In 1983 the White Sox made their first appearance in the postseason since 1959, and many credited Fisk's work with young pitchers Steve Trout, Britt Burns, and Richard Dotson as the key. Pudge averaged 125 games for Chicago through 1985, when he hit thirty-seven home runs with 107 RBIs. But that year his honeymoon with the White Sox front office ended with a bitter salary dispute, and subsequent re-signings in 1987, 1991, and 1993 were about as smooth as Vermont dirt roads during mud season.
At an age when most players are capable of nothing more than an occasional appearance at a fantasy camp or old-timers' game, Fisk continued his quest for personal goals. In Kansas City on August 9, 1990, he hit his 349th home run as a catcher, setting a major league record. His son Casey was there. "I had goosebumps when he hugged his boy at home plate," said White Sox manager Jeff Torborg. "That's a big emotional thing right there. It meant so much to those two and that family."
In 1993 Fisk caught his 2,226th game, surpassing Bob Boone as the all-time leader. Then, on June 21, the White Sox released him. The next day, Carlton and Linda Fisk sent a simple but heartfelt message to the Boston faithful. They hired a plane to tow a banner reading, "IT ALL STARTED HERE. THANKS BOSTON FANS. PUDGE FISK." They sent a similar message across the sky over Comiskey Park.
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.