Sunday, September 28, 2008

Red Sox Retire Johnny Pesky's No. 6

As I write this, the Boston Red Sox have retired Johnny Pesky's number 6 in a pre-game ceremony before this afternoon's regular season finale between the Red Sox and Yankees. Yesterday Pesky turned 89.

If anyone could be called "Mr. Red Sox" it is Pesky. He first put on a Red Sox uniform in 1942. Had their been a Rookie of the Year Award around in 1942 he would have won it as he finished 3rd in MVP balloting that season behind Ted Williams and Joe Gordon of the New York Yankees. He missed three seasons due to WWII but picked it back up in 1946. He finished fourth in MVP balloting behind Hal Newhouser of the Tigers and teammates Williams and Bobby Doerr.

That season the Red Sox went to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals would win the Series in 7 when Pesky had his back turned to the plate as Enos Slaughter made his mad dash home. Pesky played with the Red Sox until 1952 when he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers. He ended his playing career with the Washington Senators in 1954.

Pesky managed the Red Sox in the 1963 and 1964 seasons. After a coaching stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pesky returned to the Red Sox in 1975 as a member of the coaching staff. He served as the Sox interim manager in 1980 after the departure of Don Zimmer. In all, Pesky has spent 57 seasons with the Sox either as a player, coach, manager or broadcaster. It was fitting that Pesky was brought into the clubhouse when the Sox won the World Series in 2004 against the same St. Louis Cardinals that had cut his Fall Classic dreams 58 years earlier. Curt Schilling's embrace of Pesky is one of the most enduring images of that long awaited World Series.

What is interesting is that until now Pesky was ineligible to have his number retired. In the old days, you had to finish your playing career with the Red Sox and be in the Hall of Fame. When the Sox retired Carlton Fisk's 27 in 2000 they had a problem. While Fisk was in the Hall he did not finish his career with the Red Sox. In fact, he played with the White Sox longer than he played with the Red Sox. The previous ownership got around that by making Fisk a special VP. While Pesky had a great career he has not been inducted into Cooperstown but the current ownership was wise to lift that silly rule. I mean the right field foul pole is named after him.

Pesky becomes the sixth Red Sox player to have his number retired. The Red Sox have retired the numbers of Bobby Doerr (1), Joe Cronin (4), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Ted Williams (9) and Carlton Fisk (27). The Sox, of course, retired Jackie Robinson's 42 along with all other MLB clubs in 1997.

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