Carlton Fisk stolen base threat at 37 years old

The 1980s were very good for Chicago sports. Walter Payton, Ryne Sandberg, and Michael Jordan. Cubs fan Abhay tweets, “Three GOATs playing at the same time, in the same city.”

How about the White Sox? Who did they have in the 1980s? Carlton Fisk? He played for the White Sox for a solid 11 years from 1981 to 1991.

While looking over Carlton Fisk’s career stats, I was really shocked to see his 17 stolen bases in 1985. He was THIRTY-SEVEN years old in 1985 and played CATCHER. (130 games as catcher, 28 as DH).

Back of Carlton Fisk's 1993 Topps card. His 17 stolen bases in 1985 are circled in pink.

How did Carlton Fisk steal so many bases at 37 years old?

The manager of the 1985 White Sox was Tony LaRussa. Did LaRussa encourage the stolen base? A bit. In 1985 his team’s steals of second base ranked at 109. So a bit over the average of what was happening that year.

Graph of Tony LaRussa's managerial tendencies to steal bases while managing the White Sox from 1979-1986

Those years from 1981 to 1983. Yeah, LaRussa had his team steal a lot of bases! Maybe LaRussa had an influence in Fisk stealing 17 bases at 37 years old.

All 17 stolen bases

Here’s a look at each of Fisk’s 17 stolen bases in 1985

4/21▼ 7M Clear1_2_5-1Stole 3B0.15
4/24▼ 1P Vuckovich21__2-0Stole 2B0.57
5/3▲ 7D Petry11__1-2Stole 2B1.31
5/13▼ 2N Heaton0_2_1-0Stole 3B1.05
5/26▲ 4B Black11__1-1Stole 2B1.45
6/19▼ 2B Krueger11__0-0Stole 2B1.22
6/19▼ 2B Krueger1_2_0-0Stole 3B1.28
6/24▲ 4M Warren21__1-5Stole 2B0.31
7/14▲ 6M Boddicker21__2-3Stole 2B0.95
7/30▲ 10M Clear21_34-7Stole 2B0.32
8/2▲ 9D Righetti01__3-3Stole 2B3.44
8/8▼ 6S Crawford212_1-5Passed ball to 3B1.28
8/15▲ 8T Higuera11_37-3Stole 2B1.35
9/2▲ 8D Quisenberry21__3-2Stole 2B2.03
9/7▲ 2D Stewart21__0-0Stole 2B0.84
9/8▲ 8C Welsh21_33-5Stole 2B1.1
9/30▲ 6B Blyleven11__3-1Stole 2B1.65

Did Fisk go crazy one month and steal a bunch of bases? Nope. His stolen bases are pretty spread out through the year.

Or maybe he stole a lot of bases from a particular pitcher? Nope. All 17 stolen bases came from different pitchers other than Bill Krueger. Fisk stole second and third in the same inning off him.

Did Fisk steal bases in blowouts? Nope. 11 of his 17 stolen bases came in Leverage Index (LI) situations of 1.0+.

Everything about his stolen bases is pretty spread out. He stole with zero outs, one out, two outs. He stole at home and away.

I’ve always though of Fisk as a slow guy. Here’s a quote on Fisk as a catcher, setting the speed of the game.

“He went at his own pace, that’s for sure,” says former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan, who played against Fisk for years. “He moved so slowly, he took his time getting into the crouch. But he controlled the tempo of the game. He put the focus more on himself than the pitcher. You felt you were hitting against him, not the pitcher. And when a hitter starts focusing on someone other than the pitcher, he’s done. Fisk was the best I’ve ever seen at that.”

ESPN magazine

This quote isn’t about Fisk’s base running. But maybe Fisk’s slow catching style made me think of him as a slow baserunner.

How about his extra bases taken while baserunning? From 1981-1984, his XBT% was in the 40s. In 1985, it leaps to 62%—his second highest ever. Something happened in 1985. Maybe he did more run training?

Graph of Carlton Fisk's career baserunning stats

Side-note on Carlton Fisk being the top White Sox player in the 1980s

Carlton Fisk not in top 80s player lists.

He does not appear in the Bleacher Report’s top 10 players for the 1980s.

  1. 3B Mike Schmidt: (.277/.385/.540, 1,287 H, 313 HR, 929 RBI, 832 R)
  2. OF Rickey Henderson: (.291/.403/.436, 1,507 H, 137 HR, 535 RBI, 1,122 R)
  3. 3B George Brett: (.311/.392/.521, 1,446 H, 193 HR, 851 RBI, 768 R)
  4. 1B Eddie Murray: (.293/.374/.497, 1,642 H, 274 HR, 996 RBI, 858 R)
  5. SP Nolan Ryan: (122-104, 3.14 ERA, 1.192 WHIP, 2,167 K, 2,094 IP)
  6. 3B Wade Boggs: (.352/.443/.480, 1,597 H, 64 HR, 522 RBI, 823 R)
  7. OF Dave Winfield: (.289/.358/.492, 1,441 H, 223 HR, 899 RBI, 804 R)
  8. SP Jack Morris: (162-119, 3.66 ERA, 1.256 WHIP, 1,629 K, 2,443.2 IP)
  9. OF Dale Murphy: (.273/.361/.491, 1,553 H, 308 HR, 929 RBI, 938 R)
  10. SP Dave Stieb: (140-109, 3.32 ERA, 1.221 WHIP, 1,380 K, 2,328.2 IP)

Dave Stieb? Really?

Fangraphs lists their all-decade team for the 1980s. Fisk is not even mentioned.

  • Catcher: Gary Carter
  • First base: Eddie Murray
  • Second base: Lou Whitaker (also mentioned: Ryne Sandberg)
  • Third base: Wade Boggs
  • Shortstop: Cal Ripken (also mentioned: Alan Trammell, Ozzie Smith)
  • Left field: Rickey Henderson
  • Center field: Robin Yount (also mentioned: Willie Wilson)
  • Right field: Andre Dawson (also mentioned: Jim Rice)
  • Starting pitchers: Dave Stieb, Bert Blyleven, Bob Welch, Fernando Valenzuela, John Tudor (also mentioned Jack Morris)
  • Relief pitcher: Dan Quisenberry
  • Manager: Whitey Herzog

Baines over Fisk

MLB lists the top player for each team from the 1980s. Harold Baines gets the nod over Fisk for the White Sox. Harold Baines. Laughs.

Side-note on Carlton Fisk career card

1993 was Carlton Fisk’s last season. He played only 25 games. With Fisk playing so few games in 1993, all the card manufacturers decided to not include Fisk in their 1994 sets. Instead, all the card manufacturers decided to include Ron Karkovice as the White Sox catcher. Karkovice played 128 games with 20 home runs, so you can’t really blame Topps, Fleer, Donruss for making Karkovice cards. He produced.

But man. There are NO Fisk cards in 1994. Thus, there is NO baseball card that captures Fisk’s entire career stats. His last year in 1993 is missing. It just amazes me that card manufacturers often miss out on producing cards of a legendary player’s last year. Barry Bonds comes to mind. He has no 2008 base card. The guy with the most home runs of all time. There is no base card that shows his career home run total.

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