Friday, December 6, 2013
Howard Ulman / The Associated Press
BOSTON — Adored by generations of Red Sox fans, Johnny Pesky was so much a part of Boston baseball that the right-field foul pole at Fenway Park bears his name.
Johnny Pesky in 2006
Associated Press file photo
Boston Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell, center, is flanked by teammates Ted Williams, left, and Johnny Pesky after a 4-1 win over the New York Yankees at Fenway Park in 1949. Pesky, who spent most of his 60-plus years in pro baseball with the Red Sox, was beloved by the team’s fans, and the right-field foul pole at Fenway is named after him.
1949 Associated Press File Photo
Pesky, who played, managed and served as a broadcaster for the Red Sox in a baseball career that lasted more than 60 years, died Monday. He was 92.
"The national pastime has lost one of its greatest ambassadors," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Johnny Pesky, who led a great American life, was an embodiment of loyalty and goodwill for the Boston Red Sox and all of Major League Baseball."
Pesky died just more than a week after his final visit to Fenway, when Boston beat the Minnesota Twins 6-4 on Aug. 5.
Yet for many in the legion of Red Sox fans, their last image of Pesky will be from the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park on April 20, when the man known for his warmth, kindness and outstanding baseball career was moved to tears at a pregame ceremony. By then the former shortstop was in a wheelchair positioned at second base, surrounded by dozens of admiring former players and a cheering crowd.
"I feel like part of the Red Sox tradition just died because when I think of Johnny I think of him hitting fungos at spring training. We will all miss him so much," ex-pitcher Pedro Martinez said in comments provided by the Red Sox. "He was such a representative of everything that happened in Boston."
It was at another ceremony less than six years earlier that Pesky's name was officially inscribed in the rich history of the Red Sox and their home, a fitting tribute to a career .307 hitter and longtime teammate and friend of Ted Williams.
On his 87th birthday, Sept. 27, 2006, a plaque was unveiled at the base of the foul pole just 302 feet from home plate, designating it "Pesky's Pole."
The term was coined by former Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell, who during a broadcast in the 1950s recalled Pesky winning a game for him with a home run around the pole. From there, a legend seemed to grow that Pesky frequently curled shots that way — actually, only six of his 17 career home runs came at Fenway.
In fact, team records show that Pesky never hit a home run at Fenway in which Parnell was the winning pitcher. Still, Pesky's spot in the hearts of Red Sox players and fans alike is indisputable.
"This is a very sad day for me and for anyone who has ever spent any time with Mr. Pesky. He was the most positive influence I ever came across who wore the Red Sox uniform," former catcher and captain Jason Varitek said.
Even though Pesky was a fan favorite, he still had his own place of notoriety in Boston's drought of 86 years without a championship. He was long blamed for holding the ball on a key relay in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, allowing Enos Slaughter to make his famous "Mad Dash" from first base to score the winning run.
"In my heart, I know I didn't hold the ball," Pesky once said.
Pesky died at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, according to Solimine, Landergan and Richardson funeral home in Lynn. The funeral home did not announce a cause of death.
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Johnny Pesky in 1952
Associated Press file photo