When Carlton Fisk was a free agent after the 1980 season, there was talk that he might be waving home runs fair at Exhibition Stadium for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1981.
At least Alison Gordon hinted at this in her fine 1984 book “Foul Balls.”
“The papers were full of breathless reports on the possibility of the Red Sox star coming to Toronto,” she wrote.
In hindsight, it’s hard to picture the-then 33-year-old “Pudge” catching the Jays’ abysmal 1981 staff. But there’s no question, he would’ve been the biggest acquisition in franchise history to that point and landing him might have helped attendance in a strike-shortened season that saw the Jays post a woeful 37-69 record.
The proposition of the Canadian club signing Fisk must have seemed like deja vu for Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt, who started his big league career buried behind Fisk in the Red Sox organization.
But as we know Fisk opted to sign a lucrative deal with the Chicago White Sox and he continued to build his Hall of Fame resume for the next 13 seasons in the Windy City. And by the time the grizzled backstop retired at age 45 in 1993, he had set big league records (since broken) for most games caught (2,226) and most home runs by a catcher (351). In 24 big league seasons, he was selected to 11 all-star games, won three Silver Slugger Awards and a Gold Glove Award in 1972.
Of course, he also authored one of baseball’s most unforgettable moments when he clubbed his 12th inning, game-winning home run off of the foul pole at Fenway Park in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The image of Pudge waving the ball fair is stamped indelibly into the minds of baseball fans around the world. But while his home run won that game, his team lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds and he never returned to the Fall Classic, so a World Series ring might be the only accolade missing from his list of accomplishments that earned him induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Born in Vermont and raised in New Hampshire – two states that border Canada – Fisk played his position with the intensity of gritty hockey forward. He wasn’t Canadian, but he was almost Canadian and the Blue Jays’ overtures to him as a free agent aren’t his only Canadian connections. Here’s a rundown of his accomplishments against the Blue Jays and some of his other links to the Great White North:
– In 149 games against the Blue Jays, Fisk hit .261 and registered 131 hits – including 19 home runs.
– He batted .277 and socked nine homers in 61 games at Exhibition Stadium and hit .279 in 12 contests at the Rogers Centre (then the SkyDome).
– When Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins made his first start at Exhibition Stadium on April 24, 1977, Fisk was his catcher. Fittingly, the Canadian hurler became the first pitcher to toss a shutout against the Blue Jays, limiting the Jays to three hits in a 9-0 Red Sox win. On top of calling an astute game for Jenkins, Fisk contributed two singles and two runs.
– Four of Fisk’s home runs at Exhibition Stadium came in one series that took place from September 5 to September 8, 1977. It was actually a five-game series that started with a double-header on September 5, but Fisk only played in one game of the double-header. In the September 6 contest, Fisk clubbed a grand slam in the first inning off of Mike Darr (in Darr’s only MLB appearance) and a three-run bomb off of Pete Vuckovich in the eighth in the Red Sox 11-2 victory. Fisk’s seven RBI that game were a career-high. Two days later, Fisk belted two more four-baggers, victimizing Blue Jays right-hander Jesse Jefferson with a three-run homer in the first and a two-run blast in the sixth. In total, in four games in that series, Fisk hit .563 with four homers and 15 RBI.
– The legendary catcher had 24, two-home run games during his big league and four of them (including the two at Exhibition Stadium in September 1977) came against the Blue Jays. Fisk’s other two-homer games versus the Jays occurred at Comiskey Park in Chicago. He homered twice against the Jays on May 29, 1985 and again on August 17, 1988. Interestingly, it was Blue Jays starter Jim Clancy that allowed all four homers in those contests.
– On July 26, 1983, Fisk belted his 200th career home run. It was Toronto reliever Randy Moffitt who served up this milestone homer in the top of the eighth inning of a Jays’ 6-4 win at Exhibition Stadium.
– The only game Fisk ever played in Montreal was the 1982 MLB All-Star Game at Olympic Stadium on July 13, 1982. Fisk was the starting catcher and batted eighth for the American League. He went 0-for-2, before being replaced by Lance Parrish in the bottom of the fifth inning. It’s interesting to note that Fisk caught Jim Clancy in the third inning. Maybe this helped him club four homers off of the Jays right-hander later in his career?
– By my count, Fisk had three Canadian teammates during his playing career (hometown, team, years played with Fisk): Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask., Boston, 1974 to 1978), Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont., Boston, 1976-77) and Kirk McCaskill (Kapuskasing, Ont., Chicago, 1992-93).
– Fisk also hit well against the Canadian pitchers that he, at some point in his career, was teammates with: Cleveland (8-for-18, .444), Jenkins (7-for-24, .292) and McCaskill (7-for-22, .318). Fisk also faced Canadians John Hiller (Toronto, Ont., 3-for-16, .188) and Dave Pagan (Nipawin, Sask., 4-for-12, .333).