Johnny Pesky

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Johnny Pesky
Johnny Pesky.jpg
Shortstop / Third baseman / Manager
Born: (1919-02-27)February 27, 1919
Portland, Oregon
Died: August 13, 2012(2012-08-13) (aged 93)
Danvers, Massachusetts
Batted: LeftThrew: Right
MLB debut
April 14, 1942 for the Boston Red Sox
Last MLB appearance
September 24, 1954 for the Washington Senators
Career statistics
Batting average.307
Home runs17
Runs batted in404
Teams

As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards
 
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Johnny Pesky
Johnny Pesky.jpg
Shortstop / Third baseman / Manager
Born: (1919-02-27)February 27, 1919
Portland, Oregon
Died: August 13, 2012(2012-08-13) (aged 93)
Danvers, Massachusetts
Batted: LeftThrew: Right
MLB debut
April 14, 1942 for the Boston Red Sox
Last MLB appearance
September 24, 1954 for the Washington Senators
Career statistics
Batting average.307
Home runs17
Runs batted in404
Teams

As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards

John Michael "Johnny" Pesky (born John Michael Paveskovich; February 27, 1919 – August 13, 2012), nicknamed "The Needle" and "Mr. Red Sox",[1] was an American professional baseball player, manager and coach. He was a shortstop and third baseman during a ten-year major league playing career, appearing in 1,270 games played in 1942 and from 1946-54 for three different teams. He missed the 1943–45 seasons while serving in World War II. Pesky was associated with the Boston Red Sox for 61 of his 73 years in baseball — from 1940 through June 3, 1952; 1961 through 1964; and from 1969 until his death. Pesky also managed the Red Sox from 1963–64, and in September 1980. His biography is Mr. Red Sox by Bill Nowlin, published by Rounder Books.[2]

A left-handed hitter who threw right-handed, Pesky was a tough man for pitchers to strike out. He was the first American League (AL) player to score 6 runs in a 9 inning game. As a hitter, he specialized in getting on base, leading the AL in base hits three times — his first three seasons in the majors,[3] in which he collected over 200 hits each year — and was among the top ten in on base percentage six times while batting .307 in 4,745 at bats as a major leaguer.[3] He was also an excellent bunter who led the league in sacrifice hits in 1942. He was a teammate and close friend of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio. Their friendship was chronicled in David Halberstam's book The Teammates.

Early life[edit]

Pesky was born in Portland, Oregon, the son of Croat immigrants Jakov and Marija (Bajama) Paveskovich.[4] (Major League Baseball has Johnny's date of birth as September 27, 1919, an adjustment made by Pesky in 1939 to meet baseball scouting age limits for tryouts.)[5]

Playing career[edit]

Amateur and minor leagues[edit]

Pesky played for Lincoln High School, and spent several years playing for local amateur teams, such as the Portland Babes, Bend Elks and Silverton Red Sox. The latter team was associated with the Silver Falls Timber Company, which was owned by Tom Yawkey, who also owned the major league Red Sox.[6] A skilled ice hockey player, he once worked out with the Boston Bruins. Early in his playing career, Portland sportswriters would abbreviate his name to "Pesky" because it fit better in a box score. He would legally change his name to Pesky in 1947.[7]

Pesky was signed as an amateur free agent by the Red Sox before the 1940 season and spent the next two seasons in the minor leagues. In 1940, he played for the Rocky Mount Red Sox of the Piedmont League, where he was a teammate of future Hall of Famer Heinie Manush, who was the team's player-manager. After hitting .325 with Rocky Mount, he moved up to the double-A Louisville Colonels, where he also batted .325. The next year, he was in the major leagues.

Major leagues[edit]

During his rookie year in 1942, Pesky led the AL in hits with 205 - at the time a record for a rookie[6] - as well as sacrifice hits with 22. He was second only to teammate Ted Williams in average at .331, and finished third in Most Valuable Player voting behind MVP Joe Gordon and Williams.

After missing three seasons due to World War II, Pesky came back in 1946 and seemed not to miss a beat, leading the league in hits once again, batting .335, third in the league, and finishing fourth in the MVP voting while also making his first and only All-Star team. In 1947, Pesky batted .324 while leading the league in hits for the third consecutive year with 207.

In the 1947-48 offseason, the Red Sox traded six players and $310,000 in cash to the St. Louis Browns for Vern Stephens and Jack Kramer. Stephens, a three-time All-Star, was also a shortstop, and Pesky was asked to move to third base. The switch took a toll on Pesky, who had his worst season to date as a hitter, as his average dropped to .281. He bounced back to hit over .300 each year from 1949-51, and in 1951 he and Stephens swapped positions, with Pesky returning to short and Stephens moving to third base.

Pesky began the 1952 season very slowly, and by mid-June he had played in just 25 games, batting .149. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers in a nine-player deal. He split time at shortstop with Neil Berry, batting .254 in 69 games with the Tigers. In 1953, the Tigers moved Pesky to second base, and his batting average rebounded somewhat to .292. However, in 1954, the Tigers installed rookie Frank Bolling at second base, and Pesky was demoted to the bench. He was traded in mid-season for the second time, this time to the Washington Senators, but after finishing the season batting just .246 overall, he was released.

Back to the minor leagues[edit]

Pesky went to spring training with his former Browns team, which had since moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles. When he failed to make the team, he was released and signed with the New York Yankees, where he was assigned to their top farm club, the Denver Bears as a player-coach.

"Pesky's Pole"[edit]

In honor of Pesky, the right field foul pole at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, is known as Pesky's Pole, or the Pesky Pole. Former teammate and Sox broadcaster Mel Parnell named the pole after Pesky. The story goes that Pesky won a game for Parnell in 1948 with a home run down the short (302 feet/92m) right field line, just around the pole. Being that Pesky was a contact hitter who hit only 17 home runs—six of them at Fenway Park—in 4,745 at bats in the major leagues, it's quite possible that the home runs he hit there landed in close proximity to the pole. Research, however, shows that Pesky hit just one home run in a game pitched by Parnell, a two-run shot in the first inning of a game against Detroit played on June 11, 1950. The game was eventually won by the visiting Tigers in the 14th inning on a three-run shot by Tigers right fielder Vic Wertz and Parnell earned a no-decision that day.[8]

Minor & major league manager[edit]

Pesky began his coaching career in the New York Yankees organization with the 1955 Denver Bears of the Triple-A American Association working under manager Ralph Houk. From 1956 through 1960, Pesky was a manager in the Detroit farm system, reaching the Double-A level with the Birmingham Barons and the Victoria Rosebuds. He then rejoined the Red Sox in 1961 as manager of their Triple-A farm club, the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League.

Pesky in 1963

Pesky enjoyed two winning seasons in Seattle. At the close of the 1962 campaign, Boston owner Tom Yawkey elevated manager Pinky Higgins to the club's vacant post of general manager and personally appointed Pesky as Higgins' replacement. Although the selection of Pesky was a popular choice, the Red Sox were a second division team and notorious as a "country club" — a group of unmotivated players who did what they wanted, when they wanted. In addition, Higgins and Pesky were not particularly close, and the general manager would be accused of undermining Yawkey's hand-picked skipper.

A major off-season trade added slugging first baseman Dick Stuart to Pesky's maiden roster, and while Stuart would lead the American League with 118 runs batted in during '63, he was an atrocious fielder (nicknamed "Dr. Strangeglove" and "Stonefingers") who would constantly defy Pesky's authority and make it difficult for him to control his players. Pesky's '63 club started quickly and briefly had pennant hopes, but lack of pitching soon doomed it to a second-division finish — 76-85, bad enough for seventh place. The 1964 Sox also languished deep in the nether regions of the AL, winning only 70 of the 160 games Pesky managed. With two games left in the season, he was replaced as manager by Billy Herman, the club's third-base coach and a friend of Higgins'.

Pesky then left the Red Sox for four seasons, and joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. From 1965 through 1967, he served as first-base coach for Pirate manager Harry Walker, who had hit the double that scored Enos Slaughter with the winning run in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 1946 World Series — the play on which Pesky was accused of "holding the ball" on a relay from the outfield, allegedly hesitating as Slaughter made his "mad dash" for home from first base. After Walker's firing in 1967, Pesky managed the Bucs' Triple-A farm club, the Columbus Jets of the International League, to a second-place finish in 1968.

Return to the Red Sox[edit]

After the 1968 season, Pesky returned to the Red Sox organization as a color commentator on the Sox' radio and television announcing crew. A few days after he took on the job, his old friend Ted Williams, newly named manager of the Washington Senators, asked Pesky to be his bench coach and top aide. Although tempted by Williams' offer, Pesky decided to remain in Boston.[9] He worked with Ken Coleman and Ned Martin on Boston's WHDH Radio and TV from 1969–71, then strictly on television with Coleman on WBZ-TV from 1972-74. He later served as analyst for selected games on radio with Joe Castiglione calling play-by-play.

In 1975, Pesky finally returned to uniform as a full-time coach under manager Darrell Johnson. As in Pittsburgh, he worked at first base and, in his first season back on the field, the Bosox won the 1975 American League East title, swept the three-time world champion Oakland Athletics in the 1975 American League Championship Series, and battled the Cincinnati Reds in a thrilling, seven-game World Series. Pesky remained first-base coach under Johnson and his successor, Don Zimmer, before moving to a bench and batting coach role for Zimmer in 1980. The Red Sox had been contenders for most of the late 1970s, but in 1980 they stumbled to fourth place in the AL East, resulting in Zimmer's dismissal with five games left in the season. Pesky took command as interim pilot, and Boston lost four of five, to finish Pesky's career managing record at 147-179 (.451).

The following season, another old friend, Ralph Houk, became Boston's manager, and Pesky resumed his role as the club's batting and bench coach. He was especially valued by Sox slugger Jim Rice, with whom Pesky worked tirelessly. Pesky missed the entire 1983 season with a serious food allergy that caused severe weight loss, but once the source of the illness was discovered, he was able to return for a final season as a full-time coach in 1984. In 1990, nearing age 71, he spent almost 2½ months as interim manager of Boston's top farm club, the Pawtucket Red Sox, when the team's skipper, Ed Nottle, was fired in June. But from 1985 until his passing (with the exception of his 1990 Pawtucket assignment), he served as a special instructor and assistant to the general manager, often suiting up before games to work with players.

Later years[edit]

Pesky showing off his 2007 World Series ring

Intermittently, Pesky was allowed to sit on the Red Sox bench during games, but three times was prevented from the task — once by his own general manager, Dan Duquette, a second time when the Baltimore Orioles complained to MLB, and a third time in March 2007, when Major League Baseball announced it would enforce limitations that only six coaches could be in uniform during a game. Pesky, as an instructor, was ineligible. On April 3, 2007, the North Shore Spirit, a now-defunct team in the Independent Can-Am League, in Lynn, Massachusetts invited Pesky to sit in their dugout — and serve as an honorary coach — anytime he wanted.

BosRet06.png
Johnny Pesky's number 6 was retired by the Boston Red Sox in 2008.

Pesky attended the 2004 World Series and, after the Game 4 triumph, was embraced by Boston players such as Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling as a living representative of star Red Sox players of the past whose teams fell short of winning the Fall Classic. He played a poignant and prominent role in the ceremony in which the World Series Championship Rings were handed out (April 11, 2005). With the help of Carl Yastrzemski, he raised the 2004 World Series Championship banner up the Fenway Park center field flagpole. Pesky also had the honor of raising the Red Sox' 2007 World Series Championship banner on April 8, 2008.

Pesky (right) and Bobby Doerr (left) at Fenway's 100th Anniversary

On his 87th birthday, September 27, 2006, the Red Sox honored Pesky by officially naming the right-field foul pole "Pesky's Pole," although it had already been unofficially known as such. On September 23, 2008, the Red Sox announced that they would retire the No. 6 Pesky wore as a player to mark his 89th birthday and his long years of service to the club. (Pesky wore No. 22 as the team's manager in the 1960s, and No. 35 as a coach from 1975–1980. Although he reclaimed No. 6 and wore it from 1981–1984, between 1985 and its retirement the number also was assigned to players such as Bill Buckner, Rick Cerone, Damon Berryhill and Tony Peña.[10] Pesky's was the sixth number retired by the Red Sox; his number retired was the first to break the club's code to have a number retired: being in the Baseball Hall of Fame and having spent at least ten years with the Red Sox (Pesky has not been selected for the Hall of Fame).[11]

Pesky was a longtime resident of Boston's North Shore, living in Lynn and then Swampscott, Massachusetts.[12] He was a visible member of the community, making personal appearances for the Red Sox. For years, he was a commercial spokesman on television and radio for a local supplier of doors and windows, JB Sash and Door Company. The commercials were deliberately and humorously corny, with Pesky and the company's owner calling themselves "the Window Boys."[13]

On May 16, 2009 Pesky was given an honorary degree during Salem State College's 199th commencement ceremony. On April 20, 2012, Boston Red Sox fans celebrated the 100th birthday of Fenway Park, and Johnny Pesky was a participant. He was wheeled out to second base in a wheelchair, aside Bobby Doerr, to join over 200 past Red Sox players and coaches through the decades.

Pesky died on August 13, 2012, at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, Massachusetts at the age of 92; he was buried next to his wife Ruth, who died in 2005 .[12]

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ The Bleacher Report
  2. ^ Mr. Red Sox: The Johnny Pesky Story - Bill Nowlin - Google Books
  3. ^ a b Johnny Pesky Statistics and History - Baseball-Reference.com
  4. ^ Croatian Chronicle Network 35 Pacific Northwest Croatian Athletes
  5. ^ John M. Pesky obituary, Boston Globe, August 15, 2012
  6. ^ a b Johnny Pesky at the SABR Bio Project, by Bill Nowlin, retrieved 6 May 2013
  7. ^ Robbins, William G. "Pesky, Johnny (1919-2012)". Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  8. ^ "Pesky Pole at Fenway Park". redsoxconnection.com. Retrieved 2009-08-31. 
  9. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica
  10. ^ "Red Sox All-Time Uniform Numbers". RedSoxDiehard.com. 
  11. ^ Thompson, Rich (September 14, 2008). "Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 contributions too great to overlook". Boston Herald. 
  12. ^ a b "JOHN M. PESKY". Retrieved 5 November 2012. 
  13. ^ "JB Sash and Door-About Us". jbsash.com. Retrieved 2009-08-31. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Mickey Vernon
Pittsburgh Pirates first-base coach
1965–1967
Succeeded by
Bill Virdon
Preceded by
Eddie Popowski
Boston Red Sox first-base coach
1975–1979
Succeeded by
Tommy Harper
Preceded by
n/a
Boston Red Sox hitting coach
1980–1984
Succeeded by
Walt Hriniak
Preceded by
Ed Nottle
Pawtucket Red Sox manager
June–Sept 1990
Succeeded by
Butch Hobson