On April 10, 1981 the Baseball Season opened in Fenway Park and Carlton Fisk, the heart and soul, and 1975 Game 6 World series hero, had changed his Sox. From Red to White. He had signed a new contract on March 18 to play for the Chicago White Sox.
In the season opener in a scene only fit for the movies, the White Sox were down 2-0 in the top of the 8th, and with 2 men on and 1 out, Fisk was facing longtime teammate Bob Stanley.
Fisk waists no time, swinging at the first pitch from his former batterymate and sending it into the screen above the left-field wall.
Fisk finished his way around the bases with his famous home-run trot!! Hands held down, elbows stiff, head high as he rounded the bases in elegant, almost regal demeanor, the trot could be seen as arrogant to his opponents. The fans in Boston knew better as they cheered there lost a star.
“Stanley has a heck of a sinker,” said Fisk. “And I looked for a pitch down and over the plate. When I hit it, I thought it was going to be off the wall. I was going for a double and when I got close to second base, I saw the umpire waving me around. It felt pretty good.”4
Teammate and fellow new south sider Ron Leflore said – “I didn’t know he had that much loft in it. I think it was really great for him to play in this ballpark and do what he did. They were booing him to start and then they gave him a standing ovation.”
Why did Fisk change his socks –
Fisk made a cameo in 69 and 71, but from his first campaign in 1972, when he won Rookie of the year, through 1980 the Red Sox had won 90+ games 4 times. Individually he was an All-Star, Gold Glove, and Finished in top 10 MVP voting 3 times.
The Red Sox offered Fisk a contract renewal at less than market value early in 1980. But in Fisk’s mind, the effort to win extended beyond the players on the diamond, commitment to excellence was a top-brass requisite as well. Fisk felt this was simple. He’d performed for the Red Sox and performed well. So why should contract renewals be a battle all the time? Back then the Red Sox were not the lavish spenders they are today and this was more typical than not.
He started to feel estranged from the Boston organization as his confidence in the organization began to wain for the first time in his career. The Red Sox had begun to dismantle this group from the ’70s. Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson, and Butch Hobson had been traded and his own contract talks stalled.
Then the unthinkable happened – Red Sox general manager Haywood Sullivan blundered by failing to mail his contract on time, rendering Fisk a free agent. The contract was mailed on December 22, 1980, 2 days late. Sullivan made several false claims during this time period and the dispute went to an arbitrator, who ruled in favor of Fisk.
Fisk would say –
Haywood claimed he offered me more money, more years, more everything. Again, there’s an easy answer to that: If he had, I would have taken it and stayed in Boston my entire career.
It’s funny, at the time people were talking about me betraying the Boston Red Sox. Everyone made a big deal about December 20, like it was some fluke, and the Red Sox got cheated because of [the deadline]. What no one talks about is the Red Sox had seven months to offer me a contract—they never did. Even during the hearing, the Red Sox could have made it all go away with a fair offer. They didn’t. I wasn’t interested in beating the Red Sox—but I did want what’s fair.
Hall of Famer – Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver poetically said in 1980, “The guy they’d hate to lose most, even more than Jim Rice, is Fisk.”19
What happened, as a result, the perennially noncontending but improving Chicago White Sox offered $3.5 million, almost twice what the Red Sox actually offered, For new owners, Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf, Fisk’s acquisition would create instant credibility. Fisk made the decision to sign with Chicago and in 1983, Fisk would finish 3rd in MVP voting and the White Sox will win the division and lose in ALCS to Baltimore. The White Sox became contenders and the Red Sox toiled in the lower half of the division until 1986.
Fisk will finish his HOF Career in Chicago and play more games, collect more hits, and homeruns for the White Sox than the Red Sox.
Fisk would take particular relish in sticking it to the Red Sox—especially at Fenway. A career .300 hitter in Boston, Fisk upped that average to .314 as a member of the White Sox. Fisk doubled his homerun percentage vs the Red Sox and In the end, over 107 career games vs. the Red Sox Fisk hit .310, with 27 homers and 68 RBI.