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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #110: Johnny Pesky

We tend to think of Johnny Pesky as the old guy who hung around the Red Sox clubhouse, the eminence grise with the same name as the right field foul pole. Ted Williams' sidekick, kind of an organizational mascot who had coached the Red Sox, broadcast the Red Sox, and played for the Red Sox a million years before. He was a nice man, pleasant and patient. He was also a heck of a ballpayer.

Johnny Paveskovich was born to Croatian immigrants in February of 1919, just five months after the Red Sox had won their fourth World Series in seven years. His listed birthday with Major League Baseball was adjusted to September of 1919 so he would be old enough for scouting tryouts in 1939. His name was adjusted too, to fit in box scores. Boston signed him in 1940, and in 1942 promoted him to the big club. He had a fantastic first season with a .331 average and a league-leading 205 hits, then a Red Sox rookie record, and finished third in American League MVP voting.

After three years in the US Navy during World War II, Pesky came back to the Red Sox in the magical 1946 season, batting .335 and leading the league again with 208 hits. He made his only All-Star game that year, finished fourth in AL MVP voting, and helped the Sox reach the World Series for the first time since before he was born. With Ted Williams slowed by an elbow injury, the Sox lost in seven games. When the Cardinals' Enos Slaughter made his mad dash to score the winning run in the 7th game, some claimed that Pesky held on to the relay for too long. Don't you believe it.

1947 was another banner year for Pesky if not for Boston. He led the league again with 207 hits and a .324 average. He continued to hit well and hold down the shortstop job for the Red Sox through 1951, eventually accumulating 1,227 hits and a .313 average in his eight Boston seasons. In 1952 he was traded to the Detroit Tigers and would later play for the Washington Senators, but the magic was gone. Pesky did his best work for Boston.

He'd get into coaching, and was the manager of the Red Sox in 1963 and '64 (he was the one who converted Dick Radatz into a reliever), though not successfully. He'd do broadcasts, and later would be a presence at spring training and on the Sox bench (despite attempts by Dan Duquette and MLB to stop him). In 2004, he was there when Boston beat - fittingly - the St. Louis Cardinals to end a title drought that had lasted every day of Pesky's 85 years. Johnny Pesky and Yaz helped raise that 2004 banner at Fenway, and then another three years later. In between they retired his number six, the only non-Hall of Fame member of the Red Sox so honored. Along with Bobby Doerr, Pesky had become the face of franchise history after the passing of Ted Williams. Now they're all gone (Pesky died in 2012). Johnny, we hardly knew ye.

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