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.
Dom DiMaggio, a seven-time All-Star Red Sox center fielder who played with the likes of Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr, passed away Friday morning at the age of 92. Known as “the Little Professor” due to his glasses and his small frame, DiMaggio was the youngest of three brothers who played in the Major Leagues, which included Hall of Fame outfielder Joe DiMaggio and Vince DiMaggio. He played eleven seasons in the majors, all with Boston, and like Williams and Pesky missed three years between 1943 and 1945 serving with the US Armed Services during World War II.
While his brother Joe is remembered for a 56-game hitting streak that remains unbroken since 1941, DiMaggio holds a record of his own – a 34-game streak set in 1949 – that still stands as the water mark for Boston. In his career, he batted .298 and finished with 1046 runs scored, 87 home runs, 618 RBI, and an OBP of .383; his best season came in 1950, when he batted .328 and led the league in triples (15), stolen bases (11), and runs scored (131). That same year, on 30 June, he and Joe both homered in the same game playing against each other, only the fourth pair of brothers to accomplish the feat, in a 10-2 win for Boston over New York in the second game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park. In 1946, after returning from active duty, he made his one World Series appearance following Boston’s first pennant in 28 seasons, and batted 7-for-27 with two runs scored and three RBI, including a two-run double that tied the score in the top of the eighth inning of Game Seven of the series. DiMaggio was also part of the inagural class enshrined in the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995, where he again joined his teammates Williams, Pesky, and Doerr.
The Boston Red Sox announced Tuesday that, prior to Friday night’s game at Fenway Park against the New York Yankees, the team will retire number 6 in honor of former shortstop Johnny Pesky, whose name has been synonymous with the club for decades since lacing up his cleats as a rookie in 1942. With his number posted on the façade above the right field grandstand, Pesky will join Bobby Doerr (1), Joe Cronin (4), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Ted Williams (9), Carlton Fisk (27), and Jackie Robinson (42) as the only players to have received this honor from the club. The honor will also be made one day before the legendary Red Sox figure celebrates his 89th birthday.
The move came as a surprise for most familiar with Boston’s long-standing policy for awarding this honor. Until yesterday, numbers have only been retired by the Red Sox if a player spends at least ten seasons in Boston and is then elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. (Media outlets continue to state that a third criterion – a player had to finish his playing career with Boston – needed to be met. However, this was dropped to allow Fisk to have his number retired even though he spent the second half of his career in Chicago with the White Sox. A quick check of the official policy at redsox.com confirms this.) Team president Larry Lucchino, in acknowledging that an exception was being made in this instance, stated:
We inherited a set a rules that applied to this question of retiring numbers and we have looked at that and considered that to be useful but as guidelines rather than firm rules… Johnny Pesky’s career cries out as exceptional and its length of term and the versatility of his contributions – on the field, off the field, in the dugout, etc. – are such that we considered Johnny a worthy exception to the rules that were set down before.
As a rookie in 1942, the 22-year-old shortstop amassed an eye-popping 205 hits, tops in the majors, and batted .331, second only to teammate Ted Williams; his efforts were enough to place him third in voting for the American League MVP. After putting his career on hold and serving in the Navy for three years during World War II, Pesky returned in 1946 along with fellow veterans Williams and Dom DiMaggio to help his team finish first in the American League with a record of 104-50. His time away from the diamond had not diminished his abilities; he led the league with 208 hits and batted .335 that season, the third best average in the American League, to finish fourth in the MVP vote. In eight seasons with Boston, he batted .313 and amassed 1227 hits.
Since the end of his playing career in 1954, he has served in several capacities for the club, including stints as manager, broadcaster, coach, and scout. These days, he continues to serve as a special instructor and as an unofficial club ambassador, well-regarded today by fans young and old. He also has the distinction of having a Fenway Park feature, the right field foul pole, affectionately named “the Pesky Pole” in his honor.
Regarding the announcement, a clearly-humbled Pesky said:
I’m very flattered about the whole thing because I didn’t think I was in the Ted Williams or Bobby Doerr class. I played with some good guys and I’m quite flattered by this announcement and I’m really going to enjoy it.
,  Sox to retire Pesky’s number Friday. Boston.com, 23 September 2008.
Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game was first played in 1933 at old Comiskey Park in Chicago and future Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell became the first (and only) player from the Red Sox named to the American League team. Since then, a total of 97 players have made 257 appearances representing Boston. The player who has made the most appearances for Boston is Ted Williams, who played on 19 All-Star teams between 1940 and 1960; 12 times, he was named the starting left fielder for the Junior Circuit representatives, also a team record. In second place is Carl Yastrzemski, who was named to 18 All-Star squads and started seven games at three different positions; left field, center field, and first base. Bobby Doerr is third with nine appearances and five starting roles, while Wade Boggs and Jim Rice each represented Boston eight times, Boggs starting seven times at third base and Rice starting four times in the outfield.
With regards to the number of All-Stars named from Boston in a given season, the 1946 squad includes eight All-Stars: Williams, Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Boo Ferriss, Mickey Harris, Johnny Pesky, Hal Wagner, and Rudy York. Three times, the Red Sox sent seven players: 1977, 1978, and 2002. Twice, they sent six players: 1949 and 2007. Only ten times has the requisite single representative been named from Boston, most recently as 2001 when perennial All-Star outfielder Manny Ramirez was sent to Safeco Field in Seattle to represent the Red Sox in his first season with the club.
09 August 1949 – On this day 58 years ago, Red Sox outfielder Dom DiMaggio’s franchise-record 34-game hitting streak comes to an end as he goes 0-for-5 at the plate against Yankee hurler Vic Raschi, but Boston still wins the game 6-3 in front of more than 35,000 fans at Fenway Park behind eventual 23-game-winner Ellis Kinder. With one last chance to extend the streak in the bottom of the eighth inning, Dom’s line drive to center field is caught on the shoestrings by his own brother, Joe DiMaggio, who today still holds the major league record for the longest consecutive-game hitting streak at 56.
Known to teammates as “The Little Professor,” the five-foot-nine bespectacled outfielder looked more like he belonged in front of a classroom than on a baseball diamond, yet he was perhaps one of the best to play the outfield for Boston. Seven times, DiMaggio was named to the All-Star game during his 11 seasons in Boston, sandwiched around three years of service with the Coast Guard during the second World War. DiMaggio would also hit in 27 straight games in 1951 and, used primarily as a leadoff hitter, scored 100 or more runs seven times. Though his numbers were not enough to earn consideration for Hall of Fame induction, he was part of the original class of former players inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995.