09/23/08 8:25 PM ET
Red Sox to retire Pesky's number
Team icon's No. 6 to be immortalized at Fenway on Friday
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
The Red Sox announced at a 5:30 p.m. ET news conference on Tuesday that Pesky's No. 6 will be retired on the right-field facade at Fenway Park in a ceremony before Friday's game against the Yankees. The momentous occasion will take place on the eve of Pesky's 89th birthday.
"When they told me about this, I was flabbergasted, and I'm very fortunate to have this to say," said Pesky, who has served 57 years in the Red Sox organization. "I'm very flattered about the whole thing. I didn't think I was that good a player -- I wasn't in the Ted Williams or Bobby Doerr class. I played with some good guys, and I'm quite flattered by this announcement. I'm really going to enjoy it."
So will all those who have grown fond of Pesky over the years.
"It's terrific," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He's very special to a lot of people here, and I'm sure it will mean a lot to him. And because of that, it's going to be a pretty neat day."
The Boston Herald reported earlier on Tuesday that the Red Sox have had internal meetings over the past couple of days to discuss revising the club's previously strict policy on retired numbers. In the past, a player had to be in the Hall of Fame, play a minimum of 10 years with the Red Sox and finish his career with the team.
Under that system, Bobby Doerr (No. 1), Joe Cronin (No. 4), Carl Yastrzemski (No. 8), Ted Williams (No. 9) and Carlton Fisk (No. 27) are the only Red Sox players to currently have their numbers on that right-field facade. Jackie Robinson's No. 42 -- retired in all 30 Major League parks -- is also up there.
The last number to be retired at Fenway Park was Fisk's, and that occurred in 2000. In fact, the Red Sox had to make an exception under their strict system to get Fisk up there. Because he finished his playing career with the White Sox, the Red Sox gave Fisk a token position in the front office eight years ago so his number could be retired.
But those rules were put in place long before the ownership group of John W. Henry (principal owner), Larry Lucchino (club president/CEO) and Tom Werner (chairman) took over in February 2002.
"We inherited a set of rules that applied to this question of retiring numbers," said Lucchino. "We have looked at them and considered them to be useful, but guidelines rather than firm rules. I think that Johnny Pesky's career cries out as exceptional. The length of term, and the versatility of his contribution on the field, off the field, in the dugout, etc., are such that we consider Johnny a worthy exception to the rules that were set down before."
As for the wildly popular Pesky, he is beloved by current and former Red Sox players, as well as fans throughout New England.
Pesky has served in virtual every capacity imaginable for his beloved franchise, from star shortstop to coach to manager to front-office employee to broadcaster and various other roles.
"To be still with the Red Sox, I'm quite proud of that," said Pesky, wearing his 2007 World Series championship ring. "I still am very proud. I wear this ring very proudly. My son has the '04 ring, and I want to win this one this year. So win this one, then maybe I can stop. I'm very grateful to Mr. Henry and to this group here, Larry, and Mr. Werner. I'm very proud to have been a Red Sox for all these years. I hope I die a Red Sox, and I hope that's not next week. This has been great."
Even now, Pesky is a frequent presence in the clubhouse before home games. Late in the 2003 season, Major League Baseball enforced rules on how many coaches could be in the dugout, and only then did Pesky stop sitting in the dugout during games played at Fenway Park.
But he spends just about every day representing the club in some form or fashion. Pesky's current role is as a special assignment instructor.
"Johnny told us he signed with the Red Sox in 1940, so we're now talking about something that happened 68 glorious years ago," said Werner. "Johnny's career has spanned everybody from Ted Williams to David Ortiz. It really is an honor for us to bestow this honor on Johnny, and we do it on behalf of everybody in the organization, and everyone who is such a great fan of the Red Sox, and Red Sox Nation, and it's going to be a great evening on Friday night."
A former teammate of Doerr, Williams and Cronin, Pesky was a coach and manager for Yastrzemski and a coach for Fisk. In other words, he has a connection with all of the retired numbers he will join.
"I appreciate this," said Pesky. "This is very flattering to me because I wish I could have been a better player, but I did play with some great guys, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Tex Hughson, Dave Ferriss."
Pesky came to the Red Sox as a rookie in 1942 before his career was interrupted for three years while he served his country. Pesky returned to the Red Sox in 1946 and stayed until being traded to the Tigers in 1952.
Mostly a shortstop, Pesky topped the 200-hit mark in his first three seasons with the Red Sox. He was a key member of the American League-pennant-winning team in 1946 that lost to the Cardinals in the World Series in seven games.
Pesky played 1,270 games in the Major Leagues, producing a .306 average, 17 homers and 404 RBIs. Several of those homers were said to have clanged off the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park, which is a mere 302 feet from home plate. Nowadays, that pole is called "Pesky's Pole."
By the end of the week, Pesky will not only have a pole named after him in venerable Fenway, but also his number on the sacred facade in right field.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.