Johnny Pesky, Red Sox Retired #6
John Michael Pesky (born John Michael Paveskovich, September 27, 1919), nicknamed "The Needle," is a former Major League Baseball shortstop/third baseman who played in the American League from 1942 to 1954. He missed all of the 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons while serving in World War II.
Johnny Pesky's biography is Mr. Red Sox by Bill Nowlin, published by Rounder Books. Pesky has been associated with the Boston Red Sox for 58 of his 70 years in baseball—from 1940 through June 3, 1952; 1961 through 1964; and continuously since 1969. He was their manager in 1963-1964, and in September 1980.
Pesky played seven-and-a-half seasons for the Red Sox and was selected to the All-Star game in 1946. An unselfish player, he moved from shortstop to third base in 1948 to make room for slugging shortstop Vern Stephens and was Boston's regular at the hot corner until 1952 when he was traded on June 3 in a multi-player transaction to the Detroit Tigers. Almost two years later in 1954, he was again traded mid-season, this time to the Washington Senators, and was released at season's end. In December 1954, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles but was released in spring training 1955 and retired.
A left-handed hitter who threw right-handed, Pesky was a tough man for pitchers to strike out. He was the first AL player to score 6 runs in a 9 inning game. As a hitter, he specialized in getting on base, leading the American League in base hits three times—his first three seasons in the majors, 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 1,270 games over ten seasons (1942; 1946–54). He was also an excellent bunter who led the league in sacrifice hits in 1942.
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.
Although he is an icon as "Mr. Red Sox," Pesky actually began his coaching career in the New York Yankees organization with the 1955 Denver Bears of the AAA American Association—working under manager Ralph Houk. From 1956-60, Pesky was a manager in the Detroit farm system, reaching the AA level. He then rejoined the Red Sox in 1961 as manager of their AAA farm club, the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League.
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 1965-67, he served as first-base coach for Pirate manager Harry Walker. There was rich irony in the fact that it was Walker who 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 (wrongly, in many eyes) of "holding the ball" on a relay from the outfield, allegedly hesitating as Slaughter raced home from first base. After Walker's firing in 1967, Pesky managed the Bucs' AAA farm club, the Columbus Jets of the International League, to a second-place finish in 1968.
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. 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 fulltime coach under manager Darrell Johnson. As in Pittsburgh, he worked at first base and, in his first season back on the field, the Sox won the 1975 AL East title, swept three-time world champion Oakland in the ALCS, 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 fulltime 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 since 1985 he has been a special instructor and assistant to the general manager, suiting up before games to work with players.
Intermittently, Pesky has since been allowed to sit on the Red Sox bench during games, but three times has been 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.
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.
On his 87th birthday, September 27, 2006, the Red Sox honored Pesky by officially naming the right-field foul pole "Pesky's Pole." 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. (Although he still suits up in No. 6, Pesky wore No. 22 as the team's manager in the 1960s, and 35 as a coach from 1975-80.)
Pesky's is the sixth number retired by the Red Sox; his number 6, was the 1st to break the Red Sox's code to have a number retired: being in the Baseball Hall of Fame and having spent at least 10 years with the Red Sox (Pesky wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame). On September 28, 2008, his number was officially retired in a ceremony at Fenway Park.
A longtime resident of Boston's North Shore, Pesky is a visible member of the community, making personal appearances for the Red Sox. For years, he has been a commercial spokesman on television and radio for a local supplier of doors and windows, JB Sash and Door Company. The commercials are deliberately and humorously corny, with Pesky and the company's owner calling themselves "the Window Boys."
On May 16, 2009 Pesky was given an honorary degree during Salem State College's 199th commencement ceremony.
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