09/23/12 8:12 PM ET
Red Sox pay tribute to Pesky
By Jason Mastrodonato / MLB.com
It's hard to say what would have been, how many hits he might have compiled, had he never left the Majors during three years of his prime to fight for the U.S. in World War II.
In his rookie season, 1942, Pesky led the American League with 205 hits, batted .331, and was third in Most Valuable Player voting. The next three years, from 1943 to 1945, he spent at war.
Upon his return he collected 200 hits in two straight seasons before tailing off into his 30s.
With three more 200-hit seasons, Pesky would have eclipsed the 2,000 mark for his career. The Hall of Fame could have a picture of his face engraved in bronze.
But Sunday night wasn't about that. Sunday was about what was beneath the statistics Pesky compiled over a 10-year career playing shortstop for the Red Sox.
With more than 70 players, coaches and front-office staffers in attendance, the Sox opened their doors to the public at 6 p.m. ET to honor Pesky, who died on Aug. 13 at age 93. He played his first game with the Red Sox in 1942, when he was 23.
Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Carlton Fisk, Bill Lee and Jim Rice headlined a group that sat on the field and told stories about the man whom Red Sox players will never forget.
"Any time you see Boston, you remember a legend," Martinez said. "One of the few legends that I got to spend time with and actually share a lot of moments -- I can say a lot of moments -- was Johnny. ... Everywhere in the city of Boston, you seem to have Johnny Pesky.
"I know that every story about every season that ever started had started with Johnny Pesky in Spring Training. That was the first face you saw in Spring Training. Once you get there, you see that old man with the fungo. Everyone will tell you, 'That's Johnny Pesky. That's who the Pesky Pole is named after.'"
Something seemed different about the Pole on Sunday.
Cody Ross couldn't be sure, but he thought a ball hit by Adam Jones in the first inning of the afternoon game against the Orioles, an eventual 2-1 win for the Sox, was going foul.
But Ross kept sprinting, and by the time he hit the wall, banging both his knee and his elbow, the ball had somehow found his glove.
"I just ran over and didn't know where it was," Ross said. "I thought the ball was in front of [the Pole], and I ran in and someone said, 'You just robbed a home run.'
"I was like, 'Wow.'"
There was something about that catch.
"It was a home run," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "It was a Pesky Pole on Pesky Day and he was there keeping it in the ballpark -- both Johnny and Cody."
It may sound crazy, but so was the catch.
It was almost as though Johnny was hanging around, telling Dustin Pedroia -- who scored the game-winning run -- to smile.
"John was always there to talk to me," Pedroia said. "He would say, 'Smile. Have fun. This game is fun.'"
Martinez is famous for a lot of things in Boston, depending on the perspective.
He might be the ill-tempered hotshot who threw a 72-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground, or the electric, flame-throwing ace who once struck out 300 batters in a season, eventually leading the Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years.
But Martinez would have been something different had it not been for the smiling man always hanging around the clubhouse.
"Just by looking at the way [Pesky] went about trying to help all the people become successful and to win championships and be better in the game, it tells me a lot about his character, his way, his professionalism," he said. "I don't want to say this just because he died. I always expressed it in any way or form that I could any time I saw him. He will always remain in my heart, in my memories, in my history with baseball."
Current and former players spent time reminiscing on Sunday evening in front of a few thousand fans who lined the rows near the visiting dugout. They then walked up to the No. 6 that had been sprayed onto the infield dirt with water and set a rose on the spot where Pesky played shortstop all those years.
"Baseball is so different from day to day," Fisk said. "You have to forget what happened yesterday in order to perform today. John was the one consistent item in the season. That was him. He was always even-keeled. He was always pleasant. He was always rooting for the game."
Pesky probably could have been elected to the Hall of Fame, but he might be in a better place, with his memories and values enshrined in the city where he spent 70 years spreading his love.
In Boston, when it comes to Johnny Pesky, that may be the only thing that matters.
Jason Mastrodonato is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.