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How Carlton Fisk’s 1975 home run changed TV sports forever

Forty years ago, in the greatest moment of the Red Sox’ “greatest game,” Pudge — and a cameraman with a rat situation — left an indelible image.

Globe staff photo-illustration by Ryan Huddle
Harry Cabluck/Associated Press/File
Carlton Fisk jumps as he sees his home run hit the left field foul pole in the sixth game of the 1975 World Series.

GAME 6 OF THE 1975 WORLD SERIES was nearly four hours old, only minutes away from being the longest in Series history. The press box had already anointed it one of the best, highlighted by Bernie Carbo’s pinch-hit three-run homer to tie the game in the eighth inning and Dwight Evans’s acrobatic game-saving catch and throw in the 11th.

It had been five days since the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds had last played. But with the teams returning to Fenway Park and the Reds leading the Series 3-2, the gloomy New England skies had darkened, and it poured. Three days in a row Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn slogged across the soaked field, conferred with the Fenway groundskeeper, and declared it unplayable. The players anxiously awaited news of when they could resume. Sitting around the clubhouse, playing cards, taking a little indoor batting practice at college facilities, they just wanted to get it over with. In reality, the three-day rainstorm was served up by the gods as a meteorological sorbet, to cleanse the palate for the best course to come. Finally, Kuhn gave the go-ahead on October 21, a Tuesday night.

Now, in the bottom of the 12th inning, with the game tied 6-6, Fenway Park had taken on a surreal atmosphere. In the version of the story Carlton “Pudge” Fisk would tell for years, he had been tired late in the game, but snapped back to reality and was energized when the Reds’ Pete Rose turned to him in the 11th and, like a kid jazzed up on lattes, remarked, “This is the greatest game ever.” As Fisk moved into the on-deck circle to prepare to lead off for the Sox in the 12th, he felt something good was going to happen.

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Fred Lynn, following him in the batting order, was standing close, watching the pitcher warm up: “Pudge came up and said, ‘I’ll get on and you knock me in.’ ”

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“Sounds good to me,” Lynn replied.

The Reds’ Pat Darcy, a 25-year-old rookie with an 11 – 5 regular-season record, was about to begin his third inning of work. The eighth Reds pitcher of the game, Darcy had retired the side in order in the 10th and 11th. Reds manager Sparky Anderson only had Don Gullett (the presumed starter for Game 7) and Clay Kirby in the bullpen, but Kirby was buried so deep in Anderson’s doghouse he would not throw a single post-season pitch. Darcy, a good sinkerball pitcher, had given up only two home runs since April. “But Pudge was a good low-ball hitter,” said Sox third baseman Rico Petrocelli. “We were looking for him to do something.” A ball had not cleared the Green Monster, such a prominent feature of Fenway Park, so far in the Series. It was 12:33 a.m. when Fisk, carrying a Rick Burleson-model bat, stepped up to the plate after doing his usual deliberate pre  at-bat stretching, shaking, and twitching routine.

Baseball is a team sport, but the thing that separates it from the others is the one-on-one confrontation between pitcher and batter. There is nowhere to hide. Everyone watches, only one can triumph. The righthanded Darcy’s first pitch was a fastball that sailed high, and Fisk watched it. The second pitch was a low, inside sinking fastball. Fisk reached down and uncorked a quick, short, powerful swing. He immediately knew he had gotten it all. The ball rose high into the night, but appeared to be curving, drifting dangerously close to the left-field foul line.

In the broadcast booth, Dick Stockton roared, “There it goes, a long drive, if it stays fair . . . ”

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In the on-deck circle, with a perfect angle on the ball, Lynn knew at once that it had the distance. “He hit it so hard, it didn’t have a chance to hook foul.”

As everyone in the park and at home on television watched the flight of the ball, Fisk took a few hops down the first-base line and began waving at it. He shouted and motioned frantically with his arms, waving to his right. Once, twice, three times. The ball appeared to straighten out about 30 feet from the fence. It struck the inside of the foul pole and bounced down in left field, where the Reds’ George Foster caught it and put it in his pocket. (It would remain at his house until 1999, when he sold it at auction for $113,273.)

“ Home run!” Stockton yelled.

Fisk threw both hands over his head and jumped straight up, then clapped his hands as he began high-kneeing it toward first, reaching out to shake hands with the jubilant first-base coach, Johnny Pesky, shaking hands with the man for whom the right-field foul pole was named, not yet comprehending that he had just provided the reason that, years later, the left-field pole would bear his own name. Pandemonium broke loose in Fenway Park. Rapturous fans were already pouring over the rails and storming the field as Fisk rounded first.

J. Walter Green/Associated Press/File
Carlton Fisk is mobbed at home plate after his 12th-inning home run off the left-field foul pole gave the Red Sox a victory in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

He toured the infield, slapping hands with fans, careful to step on each base. As more fans rushed the diamond, he resembled a running back in open field as he zigged and shouldered his way past defenders between third and home. He triumphantly jumped on home plate with both feet, and the entire Red Sox team mobbed him. Fenway organist John Kiley launched into the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

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Watching in the NBC truck, producer Roy Hammerman ran the live-camera shot of the ball soaring into the pole, then cut to Fisk euphorically rounding the bases. But he also noticed something on another monitor, a sight that would change the way future athletic events were televised and ensure that this home run would forever hold a place in the pantheon of sports moments: the shot of Fisk, seconds after connecting, dancing along the baseline, watching, hoping, shouting, waving  —  willing the ball fair. He immediately recognized what they had and quickly set up the replays.

The camera shot had actually been something of an accident. Cameraman Louis Gerard had been stationed inside the left-field wall at ground level, peering through a small hole in the scoreboard the entire game. But Gerard wasn’t alone in his perch. He had a furry companion that contributed to his historic shot. In an interview in the Sporting News in 2012, Gerard said that as Fisk stepped into the batter’s box, the director told him over the headphones: “ ‘Follow the ball if [Fisk] hits it.’ I said: ‘I can’t. I’ve got a rat on my leg that’s as big as a cat. It’s staring me in the face. I’m blocked by a piece of metal on my right.’ So he said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘How about if we stay with Fisk, see what happens.’ ”

What happened was pure gold. The television audience, already exhilarated at the magnificence of the game and the thrilling ending, was mesmerized by the replays of the sight from Gerard’s camera. Over and over, they witnessed Fisk’s real, unrehearsed reaction, the ultimate exhibition of the thrill of victory. “Carlton Fisk had a lot of little boy in him right there,” Stockton said to his broadcast partner, Joe Garagiola, during one of the replays. Never before had a television camera captured an athlete’s spontaneous emotions, the human drama — the essence of why we play and love the game — so completely and so powerfully.

“They didn’t even know they had that shot at first,” John Filippelli, an associate director that night, said in 2000. “It was a wonderful aberration that changed television. No one had ever thought of isolating on an individual.”

As Gerard was leaving the park later that night, someone called to him from the NBC production truck. “Louie, come in here. I want to show you something,” said the executive producer, Scotty Connal. “Do you know what you’ve got here?” Gerard answered, “Yeah, I got Fisk waving his arms, trying to keep the ball fair.”

Connal said: “Yeah, but we’ve never done that before. It’s going to change what we’re going to have to do every time we take a shot. You changed television.”

It became the camera shot “heard round the television industry.” Before Game 6, there was no such thing as a reaction shot. Cameramen followed the action, focusing on the trajectory of a hit ball or a thrown pass or a shot. Forever after, there would be the isolation shot, looking for the reaction of the athlete to what happened. The home run, coming when it did, in the classic venue, to end such a memorable game, with the stakes so high, was great by itself. But when the public got a look at Fisk’s raw emotions, waving the ball, then exploding in joy, it became a classic, one of the most memorable and iconic shots in television sports history. “I’ve always wanted to find the rat and thank him,” director Harry Coyle told the Los Angeles Times in 1987.

Gerard would win an Emmy for his camera shot of Fisk that night. It would be one of a dozen he captured in his 35-year career, but that Emmy would always hold a special place in his home.

Back at Fenway Park, after Fisk’s triumphant tour of the bases, he emerged from the dugout for an on-field interview with NBC’s Tony Kubek to the ecstatic roar of the crowd. Organist Kiley hammered out “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” then launched into “Give Me Some Men Who Are Stout-Hearted Men,” and continued playing every upbeat, celebratory tune he knew. The fans stood in their seats, on top of the dugout, and on the field, clapping, waving pennants, and singing along. Even though it was now nearly one in the morning, no one wanted to go home. No one wanted the moment to end. After so much tension, the release of emotions was overwhelming. Once he concluded the interview, Fisk jogged all the way around the warning track, shaking hands and waving to the fans. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone through a more emotional game,” he said in the clubhouse. “I don’t think anybody in the world could ask for a better game than this one.”

Fisk stayed in his sweaty uniform and lingered in the clubhouse longer than usual, soaking up the moment, trying to put it all into perspective. He couldn’t. This was the reward for all the hard work and lonely hours put in over the winter getting his injured knee back into shape. It was the imaginary home run every kid who ever picked up a bat alone in his yard had dreamed of hitting: last inning, World Series, home team has to win to stay alive, whole world watching on television . . . here’s the pitch. Everyone had dreamed it, but only Carlton Fisk and Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates had done it; two men out of 200 million. No matter what else he would do for the rest of his life, Fisk would always be remembered for this home run, remembered for his three-second dance up the first-base line. He would always be remembered.

Doug Wilson is the author of “The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych” and “Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson.”Excerpted from “Pudge” by Doug Wilson. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

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