The history of the Chicago White Sox has been marked by impressive stability behind the plate, with six catchers spending at least a full decade with the club. That makes identifying the four catchers to put on a hypothetical Mount Rushmore for the White Sox at the position more difficult.
What makes a great catcher? There are a number of factors that can make a catcher great — how well he handles a pitching staff, how well he controls baserunners (although if the pitchers don’t do their part, it doesn’t matter how good an arm a catcher has), how he manages the defensive alignments.
It’s a position through the year that has almost been managed as if any offensive contributions are secondary.
The White Sox have had at least a couple of very good offensive players wear what came to be known as the “tools of ignorance,” a term coined by former catcher Muddy Ruel to capture the irony of a player with the intelligence to play well behind the plate also being foolish enough to play the one position on the diamond that requires so much safety equipment.
To qualify for consideration, a player had to have played at least half his games with the White Sox behind the dish and accumulate at least 1,500 plate appearances. There have been 11 such players in franchise history:
- Brian Downing (1973-77)
- Carlton Fisk (1981-93)
- Ed Herrmann (1967, 1969-74)
- Ron Karkovice (1986-97)
- Sherm Lollar (1952-63)
- J.C. Martin (1959-67)
- A.J. Pierzynski (2005-12)
- Ray Schalk (1912-28)
- Luke Sewell (1935-38)
- Billy Sullivan (1901-12, 1914)
- Mike Tresh (1938-48)
Here are the four chosen for the Mount Rushmore of White Sox catchers.
Mount Rushmore of White Sox catchers: Carlton Fisk
Carlton Fisk became a free agent in an unconventional manner and the Chicago White Sox reaped the rewards of it for more than a decade. Boston Red Sox general manager Haywood Sullivan failed to meet the deadline for mailing Fisk a 1981 contract and he was declared a free agent in February of that year.
About a month later, Fisk signed with the White Sox and would spend the rest of his career with the organization, re-signing with them as a free agent in January 1986, February 1988, December 1991 and February 1993. He retired in June 1993 before he could make a postseason return with the club.
Fisk was a four-time All-Star with the White Sox, finishing third in the MVP voting for the AL West championship Sox club in 1983, and he won three Silver Sluggers as well. Fisk was also something of an ageless wonder, still catching 106 games in 1991, his age-43 season.
It really was a story of two outstanding careers in one for Fisk, who spent 11 seasons in Boston before toiling another 13 in Chicago. With the White Sox, he hit .257 with a .766 OPS in 1,421 games and 5,500 plate appearances, belting 214 home runs with 762 RBI while scoring 649 runs, posting an OPS+ of 109 — the best of any catcher on this consideration list.
He had been taken fourth overall by the Red Sox in the January 1967 draft (there were two drafts a year in those days, January and June) and debuted with Boston in September 1969. He became the regular catcher in 1972, winning Rookie of the Year honors and his lone career Gold Glove that season.
Fisk was elected to the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility in 2000. If there was a moment that defined his career and playing style, it was his confrontation with young Deion Sanders of the New York Yankees in 1990 after Sanders failed to run out a popup on the infield. There was a right way to play the game and Carlton Fisk was always an enforcer of that code.