Red Sox infielder Johnny Pesky dies at 92

Johnny Pesky, who was a stellar shortstop for the Boston Red Sox in the 1940s and later managed the team and became one of its most beloved elder statesmen, died Aug. 13 at a hospice in Danvers, Mass. He was 92.

The Red Sox announced his death, but the cause was not reported.

Mr. Pesky played the game in a way that befitted his name: He was a small, 5-foot-9 infielder who slapped the ball around, drew a lot of walks and figured in several close pennant races with the rival New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians. He had a batting average of .307 during his 10-year career as a player and led the American League in hits three times.

In the 1960s, Red Sox announcer Mel Parnell — a onetime teammate of Mr. Pesky’s — dubbed the right-field foul pole at Boston’s Fenway Park “Pesky’s Pole.” Parnell fondly recalled how the left-handed hitter would curve a short fly ball around the pole, which stood a scant 302 feet from home plate.

In fact, Mr. Pesky hit only 13 home runs as a member of the Red Sox. The Fenway Park foul line had been shortened from 325 feet in 1940 to give slugging outfielder Ted Williams an easier shot at hitting home runs.

But the name stuck, and Mr. Pesky became deeply identified with the oft-beleaguered Red Sox. In 2004, when Boston won its first World Series in 86 years, Mr. Pesky was a living symbol of the franchise’s long-suffering patience.

As a rookie in 1942, Mr. Pesky hit .331 (second only to Williams’s .356) and led the American League in hits, with 205. After missing three seasons while serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to action in 1946 with his finest all-around season. He hit .335, made the All Star team and again led the league in hits, with 208.

That October, the Red Sox reached the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. In the seventh and deciding game, Mr. Pesky was part of a play that has entered baseball lore.

In the top of the eighth inning, center fielder Dom DiMaggio hit a run-scoring double for the Red Sox but was injured on the play and replaced by Leon Culberson.

In the bottom of the eighth, Harry Walker hit a double to center field for the Cardinals. As Culberson retrieved the ball, Cardinal outfielder Enos Slaughter raced from first base to home to score the winning run in what became known as the “mad dash.”

Some fans criticized Mr. Pesky, saying he held the ball too long before making a relay throw to home plate. He always defended his play, however, and later video replays appeared to support him.

“I thought he got rid of it pretty good,” his 94-year-old Hall of Fame teammate, second baseman Bobby Doerr, said in an interview with the Associated Press. “There was no fault of Johnny’s on that.”

John Michael Paveskovich was born Sept. 27, 1919, in Portland, Ore., the son of Croatian immigrants. Players and fans began to call him “Pesky,” and he legally changed his name in 1947.

Mr. Pesky led the league in hits three times (1942, 1946 and 1947), batted .300 or better six times and scored more than 100 runs six times. He was traded to Detroit during the 1952 season and finished his career in 1954 with the Washington Senators.

He figured prominently in “The Teammates,” a 2003 book by author David Halberstam about the six-decade friendship of Mr. Pesky, Doerr, Williams and DiMaggio, the younger brother of New York Yankee great Joe DiMaggio. (Williams died in 2002, Dom DiMaggio in 2009.)

Mr. Pesky managed the Red Sox in 1963 and 1964 and again for five games in 1980. He was a Boston broadcaster from 1969 to 1974 and held a variety of other jobs in the organization, including first-base coach and minor-league manager.

In 2008, his No. 6 became one of eight uniform numbers to be retired by the Red Sox.

His wife, Ruth Hickey Pesky, died in 2005. Survivors include a son, David Pesky.

On Mr. Pesky’s 87th birthday in 2006, he was in uniform as the Red Sox officially designated the right-field foul pole “Pesky’s Pole.”

 
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