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Johnny Pesky dies at 92; beloved member of Boston Red Sox

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Johnny Pesky, who spent most of his 60-plus years in pro baseball with the Boston Red Sox and was beloved by the team's fans, died Monday at a hospice in Danvers, Mass. He was 92.

Pesky appeared at Fenway Park on April 20 when the Red Sox celebrated the 100th anniversary of the ballpark.

A lifetime .307 hitter, Pesky was a player, manager, broadcaster and, most recently, a special instructor for the Red Sox. The right-field foul pole at Fenway — only 302 feet from home plate — was named the Pesky Pole in his honor.

Yet even though Pesky was a favorite of generations of players and fans, he still had his own place of notoriety in Red Sox history, a place many think is undeserved.

Pesky was often blamed for holding the ball for a split second as Enos Slaughter made his famous "Mad Dash" from first base to score the winning run for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series.

With the score tied 3-3, Slaughter opened the bottom of the eighth inning with a single. With two outs, Harry Walker hit the ball to center field. Pesky, playing shortstop, took the cutoff throw from outfielder Leon Culberson and, according to some newspaper accounts, hesitated before throwing home. Slaughter, who ran through the stop sign at third base, was safe at the plate, and the best-of-seven series went to the Cardinals.

Pesky always denied any indecision, and analysis of the film appeared to back him up, but the myth persisted.

"In my heart, I know I didn't hold the ball," Pesky once said.

Born John Michael Paveskovich in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 27, 1919, Pesky first signed with the Red Sox in 1939. He played two years in the organization's minor league system before making his major league debut in 1942.

That season he set the team record for hits by a rookie with 205, a mark that stood until 1997 when fellow Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra had 209. He also hit .331 his rookie year, second in the American League only to teammate Ted Williams, who hit .356.

Pesky spent the next three years in the Navy during World War II, although he did not see combat. He was back with the Red Sox through 1952, playing with the likes of Williams, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio, before being traded to the Detroit Tigers. (In 2003, author David Halberstam told the story of Pesky, Williams, Doerr and DiMaggio in his book "The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship.")

Pesky spent two years with the Tigers and Washington Senators before beginning a coaching career that included a stint as Red Sox manager in 1963 and 1964. He came back to the Red Sox in 1969 and stayed there, filling in as interim manager in 1980 after the club fired Don Zimmer.

Pesky is survived by a son, David. His wife, Ruth, whom he married in 1944, died in 2005.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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