Johnny Pesky, the former Boston Red Sox shortstop and manager whose name was given to the right-field foul pole at Fenway Park, died yesterday at the age of 92.
Pesky died at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, Massachusetts, the Red Sox said in a statement.
Pesky played for Boston from 1942-52 -- taking off from 1943-45 to serve in the military during World War II -- and was a .307 career hitter. Pesky’s No. 6 is one of the Red Sox’s eight retired numbers and he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995.
“We have lost a dear and beloved friend,” Red Sox owner John Henry said in a statement. “Johnny was happiest when wearing the Red Sox uniform. He was able to do that for 61 wonderful years. He carried his passion for the Sox, for Fenway Park, and for baseball everywhere he went, and he was beloved in return. We will miss him.”
While he hit only 13 home runs over eight seasons in Boston, his name is synonymous with the right field foul pole at Fenway Park. The distance between the pole and home plate was shortened to 302 feet from 325 feet in 1940 to help Ted Williams hit more homers, according to the Boston Globe.
Decades later, announcer Mel Parnell, a former Red Sox pitcher, is believed to have been the first person to refer to the marker as “Pesky’s Pole” because Pesky had occasionally hit fly balls into the pole for a home run, according to the Globe. Although Pesky hit only six homers at Fenway, the pole was officially named Pesky’s Pole during a pregame ceremony on his 87th birthday in 2006, the newspaper said.
“Johnny Pesky will forever be linked to the Boston Red Sox,” Red Sox President Larry Lucchino said in a statement. “He has been as much a part of Fenway Park as his retired No. 6 that rests on the right-field facade, or the foul pole below it that bears his name.”
Born John Michael Paveskovich on September 27, 1919, in Portland, Oregon, Pesky was signed by the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 1940 and spent 73 years in professional baseball as a player, coach, manager, broadcaster, instructor and ambassador. He made his Major League Baseball debut on April 14, 1942, and led the majors with 205 hits at age 22, setting a club rookie record that stood until 1997.
Pesky hit .331 in 1942, second in the majors to Williams and finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting. He missed the next three seasons while serving in World War II and then returned to lead the American League in hits in 1946 (208) and 1947 (207). The left-handed batter became the first American Leaguer with more than 200 hits in each of his first three seasons.
17 Home Runs
Pesky, who also played for the Detroit Tigers and Washington Senators, retired in 1954 with 1,455 hits -- including 17 homers -- and 404 runs batted in.
Pesky was Boston’s manager in 1963 and 1964, posting a 146-175 record, and he had a five-game managerial stint with the team in 1980. He was also a Red Sox radio and television analyst for six seasons from 1969-74 before returning to the field as the team’s first base coach from 1975-84.
Pesky then was a special assistant to the Red Sox general manager until 1992 and was an interim manager for the club’s Triple-A minor-league affiliate in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in 1990. He was special assistant for Red Sox player development from 1993-99 and had held the position of special assignment instructor since 2000.
“The national pastime has lost one of its greatest ambassadors,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. He “was an embodiment of loyalty and goodwill for the Boston Red Sox and all of Major League Baseball.”