Former Boston Red Sox infielder Johnny Pesky, who was a loyal part of the Boston organization for more than 60 seasons, passed away today at the age of 92. Pesky played eight seasons between 1942 and 1951, missing time between 1943 and 1945 serving in World War II, and also managed the club twice, first for two years between 1963 and 1964, and then briefly at the end of the 1980 season.
So, what in fact happened one October afternoon in 1932 as the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees battled for the World Series title? Did the larger-than-life Babe Ruth really call his shot as legend has laid claim? That is just one story explored by baseball author and ESPN writer Rob Neyer in his latest book, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, The Lies, and Everything Else.
One year ago, he was American League Rookie of the Year; Tuesday, Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was named the AL Most Valuable Player as the club was well-represented in the 2008 Major League Baseball award season. Pedroia walked away with three major awards while first baseman Kevin Youkilis earned recognition as one of the top offensive performers.
Pedroia earned 16 first-place votes out of the 28 ballots cast by baseball writers, beating Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP, by 60 points, 317 to 257. He also became the first AL second baseman since Nellie Fox in 1959 to win the award and the ninth player in team history to take home the league’s top honor. the first since Mo Vaughn in 1995. Pedroia also took home Gold Glove honors at his position as well as the Silver Slugger award as the best offensive player at his position.
Meanwhile, Youkilis, who last year took home a Gold Glove for playing error-free defense at first base, was honored as the Hank Aaron award winner based on ballots cast by broadcasters, analysts, and fans. First awarded in 1999 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Aaron’s accomplishment of surpassing Babe Ruth’s career home run mark, Youkilis is the third Red Sox player to earn the honor in the ten years of the award’s existence, the first since designated hitter David Ortiz in 2005. Youkilis also earned consideration for MVP honors, receiving two first-place votes and finishing third in balloting.
With a no-hitter thrown in May and last Thursday night’s win over New York at Yankee Stadium, starting Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester has pitched two shutouts in 2008, the first Boston pitcher to toss more than one in a season since Hideo Nomo threw two in 2001. He is also the first Red Sox southpaw to toss multiple shutouts in one season since Bruce Hurst threw three in 1987. As pitch counts have limited the opportunities for starting pitchers to throw a complete game, let alone toss a shutout, these feats have become more and more the rarity in today’s ball game. Over the past 25 seasons going back to 1984, only 12 pitchers have multiple shutouts to their credit as a Boston starter; of those pitchers, only seven have at least three and only two, Roger Clemens (38) and Hurst (11), have a double-digit total. Former ace Pedro Martinez is third in that span with eight, throwing four in 2000; fourth is Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, who tossed six over the 1984 and 1985 seasons and fifth is another former Red Sox lefty, Bob Ojeda, who recorded his five career shutouts with Boston in 1984.
In team history, Clemens is tied with another former Boston great, Cy Young, for the most shutouts in team history, although Young did that over eight seasons while Clemens accomplished his total over 13 seasons with the club. Standing alone in third place in Smoky Joe Wood with 28 over eight years with the club, while Luis Tiant is fourth with 26 over eight seasons and Dutch Leonard is fifth with 25 over six seasons. The single season record for the franchise is 10, accomplish by Young in 1904 and Wood in 1912; Babe Ruth is third with nine in 1916, and Clemens (1988) and Carl Mays (1918) are tied for fourth with eight.
Through Sunday, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds has amassed 753 home runs in his career, two round trips shy of Henry “Hank” Aaron’s record for most home runs by a Major League Baseball player (former Japanese Central League baseball player Sadaharu Oh holds the professional baseball record, having hit 868 home runs for the Yomiuri Giants). Last year, on 28 May 2006, Bonds passed former Red Sox and Yankees baseball great Babe Ruth for second-place all-time, notching home run number 715 in the sixth inning off former Red Sox pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim of Colorado in San Francisco as the Giants lost 6-3 to the Rockies.
Then again, had one of modern baseball’s rules been observed early in Ruth’s career, it might have been necessary for Bonds to hit one more home run to pass the legendary ballplayer. On 08 July 1918, with the score tied in the tenth inning at Fenway Park, Ruth ended the game for the Red Sox with a walk-off hit over the outfield fence. Unfortunately, prior to 1931, as soon as the first run necessary to win the game scored, the ball was ruled dead, and the batter was credited only with the number of bases needed to drive in the winning run. In this instance, Red Sox center field Amos Strunk had already reached first base earlier in the inning when Ruth stepped up to the plate; after his hit left the yard, the umpires awarded an RBI triple to Ruth as Strunk crossed home plate one base ahead of “The Bambino” with the deciding run. This was the only instance in The Babe’s career in which this happened, and several other players from that period also lost home runs in this fashion.
In 1931, in part due to the frequency and popularity of Ruth’s home runs, the rule was changed to allow the entire play to be completed, with the ball ruled dead and all runners given the opportunity to move freely around the bases, which in turn allowed for the batter to be credited with a home run and all runs batted in, depending on the number of players on base. To put in perspective today, if the original rule still applied today, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz would have had three game-winning home runs for Boston since 2004 and his two game-winners from the 2004 post-season also changed to triples. As an added note, baseball historians did make an attempt in the 1960s to have the records of those who played prior to 1931 updated to reflect this rule change, but Major League Baseball decided to leave them as they still stand today.