How a Rat Played a Role in Carlton Fisk’s Iconic 1975 Homer
Generally speaking, rats are not welcome in the workplace. The furry vermin are known to bite, scratch and spread disease. Yet, in 1975, a rodent helped make sports and broadcasting history.
Three days of heavy rain in the Boston area had postponed game six of the World Series, which pitted the Red Sox against the Cincinnati Reds, which led the series 3-2. When the game finally commenced on Oct. 21, it became an instant classic.
Boston jumped out to a three-run lead in the first inning, only to have Cincinnati tie the score in the fifth. The drama really began building from there, as the Reds took a three-run lead. Then Red Sox pinch hitter Bernie Carbo hit a game-tying homer in the bottom of the eighth. Sterling defensive plays, including the would-be game-winning run getting thrown out at the plate, pushed the game into extra innings.
It was after midnight when the 12th inning began, officially pushing the game into Oct. 22. Adding further tension to the evening: the Red Sox's long history of ineptitude. The team was mired in the midst of a 57-year championship drought, a streak the club and its fans desperately sought to end.
At approximately 12:33AM ET on Oct. 22, Carlton Fisk strode to the plate. As the catcher readied for his at-bat, Harry Coyle, who was directing the game’s national broadcast, radioed down to Louis Gerard, his cameraman. “Follow the ball if [Fisk] hits it,” Coyle reportedly instructed.
But Gerard quickly responded that such an act would be impossible. “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,’” the cameraman recalled in a 2011 conversation with The Sporting News. “So he said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘How about if we stay with Fisk, see what happens.’ ”
What happened was history.
On the second pitch of Fisk’s at bat, the catcher turned on a low inside fastball and pulled it down the left field line. It was immediately obvious the mammoth hit had plenty of distance, but its trajectory seemed to be pulling it foul. As the Red Sox, Reds and every person in attendance stared at the ball, Fisk began gesturing with his arms, waving fervently and seemingly willing the hit to stay fair. The ball struck the foul pole high above the green monster, becoming one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history.
Watch Carlton Fisk's Legendary 1975 World Series Home Run
Coyle's initial instruction had reflected traditional sports broadcasts at the time. Showing the action - in this case, the ball in flight - was the norm; focusing on a player and their emotional response to the moment was not. The dramatic home run marked a pivotal pint in sports coverage: the creation of the reaction shot.
Replay after replay continued to show Fisk's leaping, waving moment. Even those working on the broadcast that night realized they had stumbled onto something special.
“Do you know what you’ve got here?” producer Scotty Connal reportedly asked Gerard. “Yeah, I got Fisk waving his arms, trying to keep the ball fair," the cameraman responded. “Yeah, but we’ve never done that before," Connal noted. "It’s going to change what we’re going to have to do every time we take a shot. You changed television.”
“They didn’t even know they had that shot at first,” John Filippelli, an associate director that night, remarked to the Boston Globe decades later. “It was a wonderful aberration that changed television. No one had ever thought of isolating on an individual.”
"Without the rat, we wouldn't have gotten the shot," Coyle admitted to the Los Angeles Times in 1987. "I've always wanted to find the rat and thank him."