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Time Is Right To Retire Wade Bogg’s Number

The time is right to let bygones be bygones and give one final honor to one of the best players to ever wear a Red Sox uniform.

The Red Sox employ a rather strict policy related to the retirement of uniform numbers; to be considered, you need first to have played a minimum of ten years with the team and you must also be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

To date, only one person has received this honor who has not met these criteria; Johnny Pesky, whose number 6 was retired in 2008, was recognized for more than 60 years of nearly uninterrupted time with the franchise as a player, a manager, coach, and instructor.

There is also one player who meets these criteria but whose number is absent from the façade in right field: former third baseman Wade Boggs.

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Johnny Pesky, Former Red Sox Infielder, Passes Away at Age 92

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.

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Dom DiMaggio, Former Red Sox Center Fielder, Dies at 92

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.

Red Sox To Retire Johnny Pesky’s Number 6

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.[1]

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.[2]

[1], [2] Sox to retire Pesky’s number Friday. Boston.com, 23 September 2008.

Did You Know? – Red Sox All-Stars

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.

Today In History – First-Pitch Home Run for Rookie LeFebvre

10 June 1938 – On this day seventy years ago, Boston Red Sox rookie pitcher Bill LeFebvre makes his major league debut a memorable one as he hits a home run on the first pitch he sees over the left-field wall at Fenway Park, the only one of his career. LeFebvre, who had just recently graduated from Holy Cross College, is less effective on the mound, however; he goes four innings in relief and gives up six runs on eight hits, including two gopher balls, as Boston is bested by the Chicago White Sox, 15-2. LeFebvre returned to the minors shortly after that and would not be called up again until the following summer. On the mound, he would eventually finish his career with a 5-5 record and a 5.03 ERA over four seasons, two with Boston in 1938 and 1939 and two with the Washington Senators in 1943 and 1944, appearing as a major league replacement player during World War II. His bat proved only slightly more effective, hitting .276 in 87 career at-bats with eight runs scored, 11 RBI, and a .382 OBP.

In Red Sox history, only two other players have hit home runs in their first professional at-bat. On 22 April 1946, Eddie Pellagrini, a 28-year-old rookie shortstop and Boston College alumnus, comes in during the fifth inning to replace an injured Johnny Pesky and then goes deep in the seventh inning to break a 4-4 deadlock as the Red Sox win 5-4 over the Senators. On 19 May 1962 versus the Los Angeles Angels, catcher Bob Tillman also sends one out of Fenway Park in the fourth inning but Boston loses 6-5 in ten innings. Officially, the freshman had appeared as a pinch-hitter four days earlier in Baltimore in the ninth inning and then led off the bottom of the second that day but, in both instances, Tillman had drawn a walk, meaning that he had no official at-bats to that point.

Five Future Red Sox Hall of Fame Inductees

The selection committee for the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame isn’t due to make a decision on the next list of nominees until more than a year from now, and the next induction ceremony isn’t scheduled to take place until November of 2008, but just whose career as a Red Sox player or manager might be worthy enough to earn enshrinement at that time? (We won’t consider non-uniformed honorees here nor will we consider a “memorable moment” from team history.) To be eligible, players must have played a minimum of three years with the team and have been out of uniform as an active player for another three years; former managers are generally chosen well after leaving Boston, as was the case for “Walpole” Joe Morgan and Dick Williams, two 2006 inductees. We are also going to shy away from more recent candidates who will be eligible when the next vote is expected, like John Valentin, Mo Vaughn, and Ellis Burks, simply because selections usually happen longer than three or so years after leaving the game.

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Pride Of The Yankees

Opening Day at Fenway Park in 2005 is when I became a fan of the New York Yankees. Now, before anyone threatens to strip me of the privileges of being a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation, my loyalty to the home team has not changed. My favorite T-shirt still reads: I’m a fan of two teams, the Red Sox and whoever is playing the Yankees. I still have tickets in hand to see them play at Fenway Park a half-dozen times this season. David Ortiz is still my papi. Above all, I will always root for the Red Sox regardless of whether I have to wait another 86 more years to see them bring home a World Series title (and if I’m still alive at the age of 116, it will be worth it).

No, I became a fan of the Yankees that day because the organization proved that they are a class act. As Boston players, coaches, trainers, and even the team masseuse came out of the dugout one by one to collect their World Series rings and then raise a championship pennant for the first time since the start of the 1919 season, New York players, coaches, and even general manager Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein’s counterpart and George Steinbrenner’s whipping boy, either sat on the bench or stood on the top step in the opposing team’s dugout and respectfully watched the entire ceremony.

New York manager Joe Torre, for whom I’ve always held the highest regard, respectfully applauded his counterpart, Terry Francona, when the Boston skipper’s turn came to accept his ring, and Francona would later note that the simple gesture gave him a lump in his throat. Then, the loudest applause from the Yankees, and undoubtedly from the crowd on hand, came when 85-year-old Johnny Pesky, a fixture in the Boston organization for over sixty years, came out to be given his long-awaited piece of history. Torre was quick to tip his cap, having been a friend of “Mr. Red Sox” since he was a player with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pesky was managing the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Then later, as customary pre-game introductions were made for the home opener, the 33,702 Fenway fanatics in attendance, who had booed nearly every member of New York as usual, greeted closer Mariano Rivera with some of the loudest cheers ever given to an opposing player in a Yankees uniform. Of course, these cheers were in part because the usually-dependable Rivera, who has 336 career saves to his credit, had blown his last four save opportunities with the Red Sox, including two in the post-season series last fall that allowed Boston to climb all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit to win the American League pennant before moving on to the World Series. Rivera could have taken a page from recently-departed Sox pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim and given the crowd a one-fingered salute, but he instead broke into a huge grin, chuckled, and graciously acknowledged the crowd’s appreciation for his “services” with a tip of his cap.

It would have been simple enough for the Yankees to remain in the visitor’s clubhouse and pass the time as they waited until it was necessary to show up for the pre-game introductions. With 26 world championships to their credit, it would be easy to argue that Boston has a long way to go to match the success that New York has had for nearly a century of play. Still then to watch your biggest rival celebrate a championship that might have been theirs had Dave Roberts not stolen second base in the ninth inning of Game Four in the ALCS might not sit well with most teams. Just last season, baseball was replaced by base-brawl between these two clubs when Boston’s Jason Varitek and New York’s Alex Rodriguez, who came within a few million dollars of becoming a Red Sox player himself, exchanged words and then punches, turning an afternoon at the ballpark into a wild spectacle.

No one from the Red Sox organization instructed the Yankees to show up and no one would have expected them to make an appearance; from a Boston fan’s perspective, it would probably have been dismissed or, to the misguided delight of some, seen as a sign of petty jealousy. Instead, New York put aside any trivial differences from the past, checked their collective ego at the door, and demonstrated something is hard to find these days: sportsmanship. Winning championships is old hand for New York but, to be a true champion, it was only proper for them to recognize when someone else achieved that success.

My favorite T-shirt will be ready for all of those visits to Fenway and, when the Yankees are in town, I’ll still loudly boo each player’s name as it is read by the announcer because it’s part of the ritual that’s been handed down from generation to generation. I’ve been a fan of the Boston Red Sox through thick and thin and this loyalty will never die; most of all, I’d like to see them win a few more championships at the expense of those boys from the Bronx. However, with everything that we’ve experienced as we’ve soaked in that long-awaited title over the past six months, we should remember what the New York ball club did for us on Opening Day. That straightforward, thoughtful act by their bitter rivals did not go unnoticed by those wearing a Boston uniform and, with a bit of luck, it was not lost on the fans as well.

Mourning The Yankees?

Passionate Red Sox fans are still trying to wash the bitter taste of defeat from their mouth after watching the Red Sox hand a sure victory over the New York Yankees last October. Once again, we had to endure the taunts from the Yankee faithful and talk of an unspoken curse made by a dead ballplayer. Then, we watched these two teams play hardball in the baseball market; the Sox lured Curt Schilling away from balmy Arizona and the Yankees while New York snatched Alex Rodriguez, a player that was thisclose to being in a Red Sox uniform. In March, spring training tickets between the Sox and Yanks were fetching $500 each for a game that no impact on the upcoming season except to evaluate non-roster invitees vying for a spot on the parent club. As the season began, the rivalry was about as heated as it has ever been and we wondered what stories would be written this year.

So Sunday afternoon, as I watched Gary Sheffield weakly swing at strike three from Scott Williamson to end a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, I had to stop myself from clapping and cheering too loudly in my living room, less I wake up my sleeping son on the other end of the house. Boston has just managed to take six out of a possible seven games in ten days from New York and, while fans of Boston were trying their best to stay grounded and remind themselves that championships are won in October, Yankee fans were jeering their beloved nine. Peering into the enemy dugout, the pinstriped hosts looked as if they had just been to a funeral. Meanwhile, the visitors casually filed onto the field to congratulate each other and fans wondered if they were not feeling as elated as the rest of New England.

Something just did not feel right, though. Granted, as it has already been established, it’s only April and the Sox have plenty of games left to play before the season ends. However, that was not what bothered me. Had the Yankees, with eight All-Stars in the starting lineup for Sunday, been unable to beat a Red Sox team that was missing Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon? Were they not able to get into the mind of Pedro Martinez, who had single-handedly (with some help from Grady Little) given Game Seven of last year’s American League Championship series back to the Yankees? What happens when our team is finally together as it was put together on paper in the off-season; what will happen then when these two collide later this season?

No one should feel sorry for the New York Yankees with the 26 world championships and the $183 million payroll. No sympathy cards must be mailed to George Steinbrenner. No flowers need to be delivered to Joe Torre or Brian Cashman’s office. No Get Well cards must be sent to Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez. If the Yankees have proven one thing over the years, it is their resilient nature and the ability to bounce back from troubled times. No one truly believes that the Yankees are done; it’s only April, remember?

Yet, what if this is the season that the Yankees finally come apart at the seams? What if they are doomed to a .500 season, or worse? What if the team doesn’t improve much from its abysmal .217 batting average, 53 points less than opponents are batting against them? Have teams from the AL East finally figured out how to pitch around these guys? Have they lost the ability to produce runs when needed, one at a time? Will the jeers from the minions at Yankee Stadium continue into May, then June, and perhaps all the way into September?

As a Red Sox fan, my first priority is to see that the Red Sox win the World Series. My only contribution to this effort is my unyielding support through thick and thin and perhaps the purchase of some tickets every season. However, what I would love nothing more is to see that, on the way, they stomp on New York to earn that title. I don’t mean win 15-of-19 games during the regular season and finish 20 games in front of them; I want another classic ALCS showdown.

I want to see a series between them that ends with the Red Sox streaming onto the field, jumping on each other’s backs, spraying champagne on reporters, and blowing smoke from nice juicy cigars. I want to see the ghost of Ted Williams in a corner of the clubhouse standing there with a knowing smirk. I want to see Johnny Pesky cry tears of joy. I want to see a dejected Yankee squad slowly file back to the clubhouse, hanging their heads, and wiping a few tears from their eyes.

Truthfully, at this point, I and the rest of the Boston faithful just want to see the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years, and it doesn’t matter to me what teams they must push aside to get there. What would give me the most satisfaction, however, is to know that we went through New York to do it. Having been in their shadows for so long – 86 years, to be exact – nothing would be sweeter than to finish what was started in 2003, when the Red Sox came so very close to making this wish come true.