CLEVELAND -- The Chicago White Sox Monday unceremoniously released 45-year-old Carlton Fisk, just six days after honoring the projected future Hall of Famer as he set a major-league record for games caught.
Fisk, playing his 22nd major-league season, learned of his fate in Cleveland, where the club had just arrived to open a three-game series against the Indians.
The 11-time All-Star had not played since catching his 2,226th game last Tuesday on 'Carlton Fisk Night' at Comiskey Park, breaking the all-time record set by Bob Boone. He has had a public war of words going with team management for more than a year, and his release had been rumored since the start of the season.
The immediate reaction from White Sox fans was surprisingly mixed. While some expressed outrage at perceived mistreatment of Fisk by the organization, others said it was time to go.
Fisk, who blasted club management in a Sports Illustrated article last month, was not immediately available for comment. Fisk's teammates, however, inscribed his No. 72 on the backs of their hats and helmets for their game Monday night.
'This is a very difficult day for the Chicago White Sox,' said general manager Ron Schueler, who also was a target of Fisk's recent bitterness. 'This was not done without a great deal of thought, because for 13 seasons Carlton Fisk has been an integral part of our organization. His numerous accomplishments speak for themselves.'
Fisk, who was the second-oldest active major-leaguer behind Nolan Ryan, came up to the majors with Boston in 1969 and was the 1972 American League Rookie of the Year. He played with the Red Sox for parts of 11 seasons before being signed by the White Sox as a free agent on March 10, 1981.
Although he played more than a decade in Chicago, Fisk perhaps will be best remembered for the dramatic 12th-inning home run he hit in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds at Fenway Park. Fisk, standing near home plate, repeatedly waved his arms in a gesture pleading the ball to stay in play until it hit high against the foul pole.
That image of him -- wearing No. 27 which he flip-flopped to 72 when he came to Chicago -- was immortalized in a wing at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., commemorating baseball's greatest moments.
Fisk's illustrious career took an ugly turn this past offseason when he and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf battled in the newspapers during their contract negotiations. Fisk showed up late for training camp, still angry, and became a backup to Ron Karkovice.
Then, when the White Sox signed former Pirates catcher Mike LaValliere last month, the writing was on the wall for Fisk, who still saw limited action when Karkovice went on the disabled list with a separated shoulder.
His skills obviously diminished by age and lack of playing time, Fisk batted .189 (10 for 53) with one home run and four RBI in 25 games this season for the first-place White Sox. He failed to throw out 20 base stealers in 21 attempts.
Reinsdorf and Schueler insisted the decision had nothing to do with personalities.
'This is strictly a baseball decision that I made early this morning,' Schueler said. 'I feel that I owe it to the fans, the City of Chicago and to the White Sox organization to try to bring home a winner. With the injury to Ron Karkovice, we had to improve our defense behind the plate, and at this time, this is the direction in which I want to proceed.'
Reinsdorf went a step further.
'He has a hard time even catching the ball anymore,' Reinsdorf said. 'He just can't compete at the major-league level anymore.'
In a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Fisk blamed the White Sox for his drop in productivity.
'I know I don't look good. I've had some doubts whether I'm capable. I don't feel like I'm worn out or eroded,' he said. 'I feel like I've rusted up.'
In his career, Fisk has appeared in 2,499 games, putting him 33rd on the all-time list behind Babe Ruth, 2,503. He is 36th on the all-time homer list with 376, one behind Norm Cash, and holds the major-league record for home runs by a catcher at 351. He has a lifetime batting average of .269 and 1,330 RBI. Fisk is the leading home run hitter in White Sox history with 214 and ranks ninth on the club all-timehit list with 1,259.
Reinsdorf said Fisk's No. 72 would be retired by the club 'at some point' and insisted he had no bitterness toward the often-sour Fisk.
'I'm a little sad because we've come to the end of an era,' Reinsdorf said.
'Back last winter, when the decision was made whether to re-sign Carlton, I said to Ron Schueler, 'As far as I'm concerned it's strictly a baseball decision. Do you want him back?' He said he did and my job then became to get him signed.
'After he was signed, it was obvious that there'd be some question whether he could play out the year. I said to Schueler at that time, 'I don't want you to worry about what he's making or writing off a contract or what I might feel about him or what he might feel about me. 'You make a baseball decision through the year.''
The White Sox entered Monday's action with a 2 1-2 game lead in the American League West. That played a part in the club's decision to release Fisk.
'If this were the 1989 White Sox, a last-place team, I would urge Ron Schueler to let Pudge play out the entire year,' Reinsdorf said. 'But this is a team that is in first place, has a chance to win, the manager (Gene Lamont) believes he cannot use this player anymore. How can we ask our fans to sit by when we play with 24 players and everybody else is playing with 25 players?
'We want to win. You don't often have a chance to win your division and possibly get to the World Series or win the World Series. When you have that chance, you have to to go for it and you can't play with one less player than everybody else has.'
During the White Sox ceremonies for Fisk last Tuesday night, Fisk sent a small plane flying over Comiskey Park, trailing a banner thanking the fans for their support. A similar message streamed behind a small plane that flew over Fenway Park in Boston at about the same time.
In an emotional 20-minute address to the fans before the game, Fisk said he felt the record he set for games caught was 'not a destination' but just 'part of the journey.' The White Sox felt differently.
Fisk's roster spot was filled by right-hander Rodney Bolton, who was called up for Class AAA Nashville to pitch against the Indians Tuesday night.
Bolton was 5-1 with one save and a 2.99 ERA in 12 games with Nashville. He had been on the team's Opening Day roster, but went 0-3 with a 7.02 ERA in three starts before being sent down April 28.