Johnny Pesky, R.I.P.

by Nicholas Frankovich

Every team should have an alumnus so loyal. Johnny Pesky joined the Red Sox organization in 1940. Except for a few years toward the end of his playing career and a few years after it, when he managed in the minors, he spent the rest of his long life attached to the club that gave him his start in the game. He worked for the Sox in many capacities — shortstop, manager, coach, announcer, all-round ambassador of goodwill. He did everything except change the numbers on the center-field scoreboard at Fenway Park and would have done that too if they had asked him.

After taking the cutoff throw on a single to left-center, with the score tied at 3 in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, did Pesky hesitate before throwing home, allowing Enos Slaughter to score all the way from first on a hit and run? It’s hard to tell from the grainy film. “I’m the goat,” he said at the time, perhaps to redirect fingers ready to point to center fielder Leon Culberson, although in later years Pesky said he thought film of the play exonerated him. No words, in any case, would change the outcome. Boston lost the game and the series, for that matter, 4 to 3, establishing what, after 1967, 1975, and 1986, began to feel like a sad tradition.

For the other bookend of Pesky’s career as a Sox icon, fast-forward to October 2004, when he was 85 and his team won the World Series for the first time in his life. That it was in St. Louis, against the Cardinals, must have added to his sense of personal redemption. He received his World Championship ring at ceremonies before the Sox’s home opener the following April.

Johnny Pesky, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Bobby Doerr were friends in real life and, in baseball legend, brothers whose collective personality defines a bittersweet chapter in the history of one of the most storied clubs in baseball history. Only Doerr survives. He’s 94. Pesky, “Mr. Red Sox,” was 92 when he died yesterday in Danvers, Mass. His number 6, retired, is displayed in right field, not far from the Pesky Pole.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.