As many of you know, I’m an avid baseball fan, and with the start of the Major League Baseball season, I’ve been immersed in “America’s Pastime,” looking forward to the 2021 season after a COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. I’ve also been reflecting on the lives of some of my childhood heroes who we’ve sadly lost this past year — Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Joe Morgan and Al Kaline, just to name a few. Each and every one of them a Hall of Famer both on and off the field.
Speaking of Cooperstown, one of the most memorable “Hall of Fame” moments in broadcast journalism was Carlton Fisk’s home run in game six of the 1975 World Series. Did you know there was a pest control connection to that watershed event that lives on to this day? You didn’t? Then, as legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, “Let me tell you the rest of the story.”
Following a three-day rain delay, the “Big Red Machine” was leading the World Series three games to two heading into the pivotal sixth game, which went into extra innings the evening of October 21. As Fisk approached the plate at half-past midnight with the game tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 12th to face Cincinnati Reds reliever Pat Darcy, both the game and the Red Sox season were on the line. Fisk was fatigued after catching all 12 innings, so he grabbed shortstop Rick Burleson’s lighter bat, a 34-inch Louisville Slugger weighing only 30 ounces, figuring it would be easier to control.1
Harry Coyle, who was directing the game for NBC Sports that fateful night, radioed down to cameraman Louis Gerard, who was situated in the scoreboard next to Fenway’s famed “Green Monster,” with instructions to “follow the ball” if Fisk hits it.
Unfortunately (or fortuitously in this case), Fenway Park had a rodent problem at the time, and Gerard reported back, “Harry, 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.” When Gerard asked Coyle what he should do, the veteran director responded, “How about if we stay with Fisk, see what happens?”2
And the rest, as they say, is history. Who can forget the 27-year-old catcher, at the height of his baseball prowess, flailing his arms, imploring the ball to stay fair as it approached the left-field foul pole? As Gerard was leaving the ballpark that night, Executive Producer Scotty Connal, who would later play a pivotal role at ESPN, invited him into the production truck to see something. “Do you know what you’ve got here?” he asked. Gerard said, “Yeah, I got Fisk waving his arms, trying to keep the ball fair.” He said, “Yeah, but we’ve never done that before. That’s going to change what we’re going to have to do every time we take a shot. You changed (sports) television.”3
And now you know the rest of the story!
Sadly, the rodent — much like Pat Darcy — is a mere footnote to this story, lost to history thanks to one of the most iconic moments in World Series lore. It doesn’t seem fair. After all, New York City’s infamous Pizza Rat has achieved much greater fame for simply feeding its appetite in the internet age. Fortunately, PCT magazine is here to correct the record, honoring one of its own on the cusp of the 152nd major league season. Now it’s time play ball!1 baseballhall.org; 2,3 The Sporting News, 4-19-12, updated 3-24-19.