By Steve Grad
fan favorite from the second he stepped onto the field in Boston, Fisk quickly earned a reputation as one of baseball's premier backstops. A first round draft choice in 1967, Fisk was the fourth player chosen in the nation. It was apparent from the get-go that Fisk was going to be a star. By 1972, the heralded catcher was starting for the Red Sox en route to a unanimous rookie of the year award.
Three years after his rookie campaign, Fisk was again making news. This time in the postseason, grabbing headlines in game three by landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and again in game six when Fisk hit a game-winning 12th inning home run. Fisk's leaping gyrations down the first base line as he willed the ball to say fair were recorded by NBC and have been replayed thousands of times. This is remembered as one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history.
Throughout the 1970s, Fisk and his Red Sox battled the Yankees on numerous occasions, never again making a world series. More interesting was Fisk's personal battle with Yankees catcher Thurman Munson. If there were ever two players who stood out on the field, it was Fisk and Munson. Both were hard-nosed, gritty and proven winners. If it weren't for Munson's untimely death in 1979 the two catchers would have been immortalized together in Cooperstown.
After a major front office gaffe, when the Red Sox failed to tender Fisk a contract on time during the 1980 off-season, Fisk quickly applied for free agency and signed with the Chicago White Sox. In fairy tale style, the White Sox opened the 1981 season in Boston against the Red Sox and Fisk's eighth-inning, three run-homer propelled the "Pale Hose" to a 5-3 victory.
The veteran catcher would lead the White Sox to the American League Western Division title in 1983 and in 1985, Fisk enjoyed his most productive season in the majors, hitting 37 home runs. In 1986, Fisk was shifted to left field to make room for young catching prospect Joel Skinner. By May, the experiment was over and Fisk was back behind the mask.
Though Fisk would never eclipse the 37-home run mark again in his career, he did reach a number of milestones as a member of the White Sox. No catcher has caught as many games (2,226) or hit as many homers while playing the position (351). In 1990, Fisk broke Johnny Bench's mark for home runs by a catcher (328), hitting the long ball off of the Rangers' Charlie Hough.
In 1993, playing on his last legs in what would be his last game in the major leagues, Fisk broke Bob Boone's mark of number of games caught by a catcher, a mark he still holds. Seven years later and in his second year of eligibility, Fisk became a member of Baseball's Hall of Fame, opting to wear a Boston Red Sox hat, instead of a White Sox hat. His Hall of Fame hat gesture, was one last parting shot to a White Sox organization that he feuded with much of his career.
Fisk, who was a throwback to the glory years, considered himself a protector of the game's honor. It wasn't below him to challenge teammates for failing to play the game properly or failing to hustle. In an incident during the late 1980's, he nearly came to blows with the entire Yankees' dugout after he admonished Deion Sanders for failing to run out a routine grounder. Sanders, who was shocked by the confrontation, later apologized for his disrespect to the game of baseball.
Throughout his career Fisk was a two-tiered signer. I say this because once he left the Boston Red Sox in 1980, his signing habits changed dramatically. As a member of the Red Sox, Fisk was an obliging signer, especially early in his career. He would typically sign his mail when sent in care of the team. And as shown by this example, received by a fan in 1973, Fisk went through great lengths to answer a fans question regarding his greatest moments in the major leagues.
As a member of the White Sox, Fisk's signing habits changed considerably and he became more of a reclusive signer. This was especially true during the latter half of his career, when Fisk would rarely sign for fans or collectors only occasionally obliging them with his autograph. After he retired in 1993, Fisk could regularly been seen at charity golf events or in spring training where he was once again a reclusive signer. On many occasions, Fisk has been known to turn down all requests on memorabilia, only signing a program or piece of paper.
One constant about Fisk's signature is that it rarely changed over the years. Before hitting the major leagues on a full time basis in 1972, Fisk fashioned a simpler signature where every letter of name was clearly visible and readable. In many cases, Fisk would include his middle initial "E" (illustrated on a signed minor league gambling agreement from 1969). In some rare instances, (as illustrated by this signed index card, from 1971) Fisk included his nickname, "Pudge" for a fan request. From about 1973 through current day, Fisk has primarily kept the same signature, signing "Carlton Fisk". Characteristics of his signature, which are as true today as they were in 1973, were speed. The signature moves at a rapid pace, and is spaced very tightly, as shown on this blue Sharpie signature.
The "C" in Carlton curls inward initially, then moves with great speed and flow through the rest of his first name. The last name, also features the same characteristics of the first name and instead of a cursive "F" Fisk styles a capital "F" that closely resembles a '7' with a line drawn through the middle.
If you receive Fisk's signature today at a card show or in person, it is basically the same autograph you would have received from him in 1973. Standard values for Fisk signed memorabilia are as follows: 3x5 $35, trading card $45, photo $45, bat $250, jersey $350 and hat $200.
I understand collectors' frustrations in obtaining Fisk's signature in person, but please remember that it's just his personality. He's a very private person that shuns the spotlight and would rather be left alone.
I spent a good amount of time around Fisk during his days with the White Sox and he has been nothing but cordial and gracious to me. Next article we'll take a look at the signing habits of Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett.
Steve Grad is the senior authenticator at PSA/DNA. Visit Steve online at www.psacard.com
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