Johnny Pesky

A slick fielder, Pesky is best remembered for plays he didn’t make, the main one in the seventh game of the 1946 World Series. The Cardinals and the Red Sox were tied 3-3 in St. Louis, with Enos Slaughter on first with two out. Harry Walker blooped a double into centerfield, and Slaughter was running with the pitch. Pesky took the cutoff throw with his back to the plate, checked Walker at first, then saw too late that Slaughter was racing home. Pesky’s throw was late, and the Cardinals won the game and the Series. Seven years later in 1952, while Pesky was playing with Detroit, came another memorable nonplay. Virgil Trucks, who had pitched a no-hitter earlier in the season for the Tigers, was mowing down the Yankees. In the third inning, Phil Rizzuto hit a grounder to short that Pesky had trouble getting out of his glove. The scorer originally called the play a hit. But as the game wore on and Trucks looked as if he could get another no-hitter save for Rizzuto’s hit, the scorer called the Tiger dugout in the seventh inning. Pesky admitted he had misplayed the ball, the play was scored an error, and Trucks had his second no-hitter.

These famous plays tend to cloud Pesky’s otherwise distinguished career. In his rookie season, the lefthanded-hitting Pesky collected 205 hits (a Red Sox rookie record) to lead the league, and finished second in the batting race to teammate Ted Williams with a .331 average. After spending the next three years in the service, he came back in 1946 to lead the Red Sox to their first pennant since 1918 with another league-leading 208 hits, including 11 in a row at one stretch, for a .335 average. On May 8, he set an AL record by scoring six times in one game, later tied by another Red Sox shortstopSpike Owen. In 1947, after getting married and gaining 30 pounds in the off-season, he had an AL-high 207 hits to lead the league for the third straight year, compiling a .324 average. He also had a 27-game hit streak during the season. In 1948, with the acquisition of Vern Stephens, new manager Joe McCarthy moved Pesky to third, and Pesky hit only .281, but led the majors in double plays. After switching him back to shortstop in 1951, the Red Sox traded him to Detroit during the 1952 season in a nine-player deal, where he played mainly second base. He ended his career with the Senators in 1954. A contact hitter, he struck out just 218 times, never striking out more than 36 times in a season.

After ending his playing career, he managed in the Tiger minor league system from 1956 to 1960 and in the Red Sox’ system in 1961 and 1962. He was brought up to manage the big club in 1963, but was fired with two games to go in the 1964 season. He coached with the Pirates in 1965 and 1966, then moved back to Boston and into the broadcast booth from 1969 to 1974. In 1980 he was interim manager at the end of the season after Don Zimmer was fired.