BOSTON, MA—Red Sox Hall of Famer Johnny Pesky, the beloved fixture at Fenway Park who spent 61 years with the club--including the last 44--passed away today at the age of 92. He was surrounded by family and friends at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, MA.
Born John Michael Paveskovich on September 27, 1919, the Portland, OR native was signed by the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 1940 and spent 73 years in professional baseball. With the Red Sox, he served as a player, coach, manager, broadcaster, instructor, and ambassador. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995.
“We have lost a dear and beloved friend,” said Red Sox Principal Owner John Henry. “Johnny was happiest when wearing the Red Sox uniform. He was able to do that for 61 wonderful years. He carried his passion for the Sox, for Fenway Park, and for baseball everywhere he went, and he was beloved in return. We will miss him. We share the sadness that his family and legions of friends are all feeling.”
The Red Sox will host a public tribute at Fenway Park at a later date.
“Johnny was one of the wonderful links to 70 years of Red Sox history,” said Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner. “He was the grandfather of the Red Sox. He was as loving and kind a gentleman as one could imagine. His stories were delightful, and his love of Ted Williams and his teammates shone through in virtually every conversation. We know that those stories, and his spirit, will continue to live on at Fenway Park. We extend our sympathies to his son, David, his daughter-in-law Alison, and all of the members of the Pesky family.”
Pesky and his beloved wife, the former Ruthie Hickey, were married over 60 years. She passed away in 2005.
“Johnny Pesky will forever be linked to the Boston Red Sox,” said Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino. “He has been as much a part of Fenway Park as his retired Number 6 that rests on the right-field façade, or the foul pole below it that bears his name. But beyond these physical testaments, Johnny will be remembered most for his warmth, kindness, and loyalty. It was through his countless friendships that Johnny made his greatest impact on us, and we will miss him dearly. His was a life well-lived.”
Pesky attended Opening Day this year, as well as the 100th Anniversary celebration on April 20. His final visits to Fenway Park were Friday, August 3 for the induction of the Class of 2012 into the Red Sox Hall of Fame and again on Sunday, August 5, a Red Sox 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Pesky, whose Number 6 is one of the Red Sox’ eight retired numbers, led the Major Leagues with 205 hits as a 22 year-old in 1942, his first Major League season, setting a club rookie record that stood 55 years (until 1997).
He hit .331 that summer of ’42, second in the majors to Ted Williams’ .356 and finished third in MVP voting. He missed the next three seasons, serving his country during World War II.
Upon his return, the left-handed hitter led the American League in hits in both 1946 (208) and 1947 (207), batting .335 and .324 in those seasons, respectively, to become the first American Leaguer with at least 200 hits in his first three seasons.
His three career 200-hit campaigns stood as the most by a Red Sox player for 32 years.
Pesky started at shortstop in the 1946 All-Star Game at Fenway Park and helped the club win the American League pennant that year. He played every inning at shortstop in the seven-game World Series won by the St. Louis Cardinals. He was back in St. Louis 58 years later when the Red Sox completed their historic comeback and won the 2004 World Series.
Over parts of his eight seasons playing for the Red Sox (through June 1952), Pesky hit .313 (1,277-for-4,085) with 196 doubles, 46 triples, 13 home runs, 361 RBI, 776 runs scored, 581 walks and 48 stolen bases, and he remains among Boston’s career leaders in batting average (7th), on-base percentage (7th, .401), runs scored (10th) and at-bats per strikeout (3rd, 21.61).
He joins Ted Williams and Wade Boggs as the only players in franchise history to score at least 750 runs while compiling a batting average of .300 or more.
Pesky’s six runs scored in a 14-10 win over the White Sox at Fenway Park on May 8, 1946 set an American League record that has since been tied but has yet to be surpassed. In 1,029 games for Boston, the versatile infielder totaled 549 appearances at shortstop, 457 at third base and five at second base. He turned a Major League-leading 48 double plays in 1949, still the Red Sox record for a third baseman.
Following a 10-year Major League career during which he also played for the Detroit Tigers (1952-’54) and Washington Senators (1954), he coached for the New York Yankees’ Triple-A Denver affiliate in 1955 under Ralph Houk and managed in the Detroit system with five minor league teams from 1956-’60. He managed in the Nicaraguan Winter League in 1959.
Pesky rejoined the Red Sox organization in 1961 as skipper for the Triple-A Seattle Rainiers and reprised that role the next season before taking the helm of the Red Sox from 1963-’64. Including managing the final five games of the 1980 season, he compiled an overall Major League managerial record of 147-179 (.451), all with Boston. He spent 1965-’67 as a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and managed Pittsburgh’s Triple-A Columbus club in 1968.
The 1969 season began a continuous stretch of 44 years for Pesky as a member of the Red Sox organization. He was a Red Sox radio and TV analyst for six seasons (1969-’74) before returning to the field as the team’s first base coach for nine years from 1975-’84. He then served as special assistant to the Red Sox General Manager until 1992. He was also interim manager at Triple-A Pawtucket for part of the 1990 season. From 1993-’99, he was special assistant for Red Sox player development, and then held the position of special assignment instructor since 2000. In 1982, the Boston Baseball Writers gave him their Good Guy Award.
On April 11, 2005, Pesky and Carl Yastrzemski led the active players in raising the World Championship flag at Fenway Park. Fenway Park’s right-field foul pole was dedicated as the “Pesky Pole” on September 27, 2006, his 87th birthday, making official what had been the established vernacular for decades.
The “Teammates” statue, which features Pesky and fellow legendary Red Sox Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, stands outside Gate B at Fenway Park. Pesky was named to the Red Sox All-Time Team in a 1982 fan ballot.