Johnny Pesky, SS/3B, #6 (1942-present)
.307/.394/.386, 1,455 hits, 17 HR, 867 R, 218 K in 10 seasons
It was announced by the Red Sox yesterday that Johnny Pesky’s number 6 will be retired during this weekend’s series with the Yankees. As the ambassador for Red Sox baseball, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person, and now, legacy.
So who is Johnny Pesky? Glad you asked…
HIS PLAYING DAYS
John Michael Paveskovich, known to Red Sox faithful as Johnny Pesky, was a valued part of the Boston Red Sox for seven major league seasons, despite missing three years after his rookie year to war service.
Pesky burst on the scene in 1942 at age 22, hitting .331/.375/.416. He amassed 105 runs and 205 hits. He finished third in MVP balloting, and then left to serve in World War II.
Returning in 1946, he picked off where he left off. The left-handed batter hit .335/.401/.427 en route to being named to his first All-Star game and finishing fourth in MVP balloting. He had 208 hits and 115 runs scored. He continued his dominance the following year, hitting .324/.393/.392 with 106 runs and 207 hits. He never approached 200 hits again, but continued to serve faithfully for the Red Sox.
Factor in that high average and on-base percentage with the number of times he struck out in those three years: 36, 29, 22. He simply did not strike out, and as a matter of fact, the 36 times he struck out in his rookie year was his career high!
In 1948, his statistics slipped to .281/.394/.365 as he adjusted to a new position – the hot corner. Pesky had moved from shortstop to third base to make room for slugging Vern Stephens, recently acquired from the St. Louis Browns.
He recovered in 1949 to jump over the .300 mark again, hitting .308/.408/.384. He continued his run in 1950 and 1951, hitting .312/.437/.388 and .313/.437/.398 in 1951. He led the AL in basehits three times and was among the top ten in OBP six times. In addition to refusing to strike out, he was an adept bunter and led the league in sacrifice hits in 1942.
Unfortunately, while he did well in 1951, he snapped his personal streak of finishing every year with at least 105 runs scored, finishing with 93. He would never approach those levels again.
In 1952, things fell apart. He hit .149/.313/.179 before being shipped off to the Detroit Tigers for Dizzy Trout, George Kell, Johnny Lipon and Hoot Evers along with Walt Dropo, Fred Hatfield, Don Lenhardt and Bill Wight. He recovered somewhat in Detroit to hit .254/.394/.294 in 244 total AB’s. The following year saw him spend the entire year in Detroit amassing 308 AB, hitting .292/.353/.390.
After only 17 games in 1954 for Detroit, he was traded to the Washington Senators for Mel Hoderlein. After starting out at .176/.300/.353 for Detroit, he hti .253/.296/.316 in 158 additional AB’s for the Senators, and his career was over at the age of 34.
Assuming he had not missed three years to war service and had amassed at least 200 hits in each of those years, Pesky would have been sitting on 2,055 hits (and likely more). With those numbers, Pesky likely would have been given more of a chance by the Red Sox, Tigers or Senators to play more, and it’s reasonable to think he could have finished his career with at least 2,200 hits. If he had not lost years to the war, it’s likely Pesky would have been discussed as a possible Hall of Famer.
HIS COACHING DAYS
Pesky started his managerial career in 1955 with the Denver Bears of the AAA American Association. This team was affiliated with the New York Yankees. From 1956-60, he managed in the Detroit farm system, then jumped to the AAA Seattle Rainers as manager in 1961, the affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. After 1962, Pesky was appointed manager of the Red Sox. Even though Pesky was welcomed as a manager, this was during the “country club” era of the Red Sox. In addition, general manager Pinky Higgins was not a fan of Pesky and constantly tried to undermine him. Even though the Red Sox acquired Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart during this period, Stuart constantly defied Pesky’s authority and caused the 1963 club to finish in seventh place with a record of 76-85. In 1963, the Red Sox went 70-90 before Pesky was replaced for the final two games.
Pesky left and joined the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization, serving as first-base coach for Harry Walker – the same Harry Walker that drove in Enos Slaughter in “The Mad Dash Home” where Pesky was accused of holding the ball. In 1968, he managed the Pirates’ AAA affiliate.
In 1969, he returned to the Red Sox as color commentator along Ken Coleman and Ned Martin. He continued in an announcing capacity until 1975, when he worked first-base duties as a coach under manager Darrell Johnson. He remained in that role under Johnson and Don Zimmer until 1980, when he then moved to a bench role under Zimmer. With five games left in the season in 1980, Zimmer was fired and Pesky managed the string out.
Ralph Houk took over as manager in 1981, and Pesky remained bench coach and became very close with Jim Rice. In 1983, he missed the entire year due to a severe food allergy and returned to service in 1984, his final season as a fulltime coach. In 1991, he served for over two months as the manager for the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. Throughout this time, he served as an assistant to the general manager and a player development consultant, and often suited up for games. He was prevented by doing so twice, once by GM Dan Duquette and once by the Baltimore Orioles until last year, when he was banned permanently.
THE PESKY OF TODAY
Pesky is a beloved member of Red Sox Nation who still has a large following and routinely gets standing ovations every time he shows his face in Fenway Park. On his 87th birthday two years ago, the famed “Pesky’s Pole,” dubbed as such by announcer Mel Parnell in 1948 when he wrapped a homer around the pole to win a game, was officially named “Pesky’s Pole.” The joke went that Pesky needed that pole as close as possible because he couldn’t hit the ball out of the park otherwise.
Two of the more enduring images I have of Johnny Pesky is Curt Schilling hugging him in sheer joy after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. The next image of Pesky I have is of the ring ceremony the following Opening Day, when he greeted ALCS hero Curt Leskanic with the line “Leskanic, you son of a bitch!” — a line that made it through NESN’s censors as it was live.
Pesky still is a special assistant to the Red Sox and was a daily presence in the dugout until Major League Baseball barred him. That hasn’t deterred him, however, as he still attends many Red Sox games and uses a locker in the clubhouse and is beloved by many Red Sox. Dustin Pedroia, for one. David Ortiz, for two.
For his contributions on and off the field, Johnny Pesky will be forever immortalized with a red number 6 on a white circle side by side with the Boston Red Sox players of lore.
A Homage to Johnny Pesky
A Homage to Johnny Pesky
Johnny Pesky, SS/3B, #6 (1942-present)