A former player, manager, coach, and ambassador for the team, Johnny Pesky is one of the most beloved players in Red Sox history, although he’s mostly beloved for what he did after his playing career was finished. The team retired his number and he even has a famous foul pole named after him, the moniker bestowed by teammate (and underrated Red Sox player) Mel Parnell.
There are generations of Red Sox fans who consider Johnny Pesky a former star player, a teammate of Ted Williams who has been immortalized in a statue outside of Fenway Park and as one of the four “Teammates” (along with Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Dom DiMaggio) in the famous book by David Halberstam. His position as a Red Sox bench coach, instructor, and front office ambassador meant he was one of the longest-tenured former players in the franchise’s history.
He was a good man and loyal to the Red Sox for 61 years of his life, but his career numbers show that the legend built up after his playing days has obscured what he did during his time on the field. Pesky played eight of his ten major league seasons with the Red Sox, from 1942 to 1952 (while missing the 1943-1945 seasons due to his service in World War II).
He hit for a very good average, topping .300 in all but two of his seasons in Boston and finishing with a .294 average for his Red Sox career. He didn’t hit for much power, only hitting 13 home runs and 361 RBI for the Red Sox. He made one All-Star team in his career, in 1946. He did lead the league in hits in 1942, 1946, and 1947, topping 200 in each season.
As a fielder, the numbers show he was decent, finishing with a .964 fielding percentage although he did commit 111 errors (100 of them with the Red Sox). He’s also, unfortunately, most well known for his blunder in Game Seven of the 1946 World Series when he hesitated (according to the accounts of the time) and allowed Enos Slaughter to score the winning run.
While the right field foul pole is named after him, he only hit six career home runs at Fenway Park (and only one in a game Mel Parnell, who came up with the “Pesky Pole” name, pitched in). It may again be a case of myth obscuring fact as legions of New Englanders (including yours truly) grew up thinking Pesky was famous for hitting home run after home run off of that pole…why else would it be named that? (Obviously, it’s Parnell’s fault, not Pesky’s).
Johnny Pesky was a good man and a great ambassador for the Red Sox, but his beloved place in Red Sox history is more to do with how long he worked for the team and how nice he was than how great a player he was. He was solid but by far the weakest of the four Teammates. As a man and a loyal Red Sox, Pesky is deservedly loved, but as a player he’s overrated.