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 shortstop, Spike 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. (SEW/EC)
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»September 27, 1942:
The Red Sox Tex Hughson wins his 22nd to tie Mort
Cooper for the ML lead, as the Red Sox edge the Yankees.
A Fenway Park crowd of 26,166--including 4,293 youngsters
who gained free admission by bringing 29,000 pounds
of scrap metal--watches Hughson scatter 11 hits. Ted
Williams, in his final appearance before entering
the war, has a single to finish the season at
.356 and wins his second straight batting title. Teammate
Johnny Pesky is 2nd at .331. Williams also leads the
ML in HRs (36), RBI (137), runs (141), and walks (145).
»May 6, 1946:
The Red Sox sweep two games from the Browns in a postponed twinbill, with Boo Ferriss winning the opener 7–5 behind Ted Williams three RBIs. In the 8th inning of the opener, with George Metkovich on first, Johnny Pesky grounds out on a hit-and-run. He had hit safely 11 times up, one shy of Pinky Higgins major-league record hitting streak. Manager Joe Cronin said Pesky had called the play on his own, and he would have had him hitting away. In the nitecap, Williams scores the winning run in the 9th on Dom DiMaggio's RBI single, and the Sox Joe Dobson comes away with a 5–4 win. Dom will drive in a record-tying 84 runs hitting in the leadoff spot (87 altogether). The Sox have now won 11 in a row and are three games in front of the Yankees.
»May 8, 1946: Hot-hitting Boston 2B Johnny Pesky becomes the first player in American League history to score six runs in one game, as the Red Sox beats the White Sox 14–10. Mickey Harris is the winner, despite giving up 17 hits in eight 2/3 innings. Boo Ferriss retires Taffy Wright for the last out and the Sox have now won 13 straight.
»May 2, 1947: Bob Feller fires his 2nd one-hitter in 10 days, stopping the Red Sox, 2–0, while striking out 10. Johnny Pesky has the only safety. Joe Gordon's homer off Ferriss is the only run Feller needs.
»September 26, 1949:
Before 67,434 at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox survive
a rhubarb-filled, 7-6 win when Johnny Pesky
scores on a disputed squeeze play. Leading by one
game, the Sox move on to Washington for a 3-game series
before the last 2 games of the year with the Yankees.
»June 16, 1950: Pitching before a crowd of 54,086, Hal Newhouser trims the Red Sox for the 2nd time in six days, winning 4–1. He strikes out eight including Johnny Pesky four times. Detroit keeps it's one 1/2 game lead over New York.
»May 23, 1951: Mel Parnell gives up four hits in shutting out the Browns, while stroking four hits himself. Ted Williams walks five times in the 12–0 win. Vern Stephens sets an assist record for third baseman, with an assist from SS Johnny Pesky. On the last out of the game, a grounder to Pesky, he flips to Stephens, who fires to 1B to set the record at 10 assists. Frank Malzone will equal the record in 1957 and Ken McMullen will top it in 1966.
»August 25, 1952:
In a 1-0 win over the Yankees in Yankee Stadium,
Virgil Trucks of the Detroit Tigers pitches his second no-hitter of the season. The no-hitter is in doubt for three innings when a play made by SS Johnny Pesky in the third inning is under debate. The official scorer, John Drebinger, records it as an error when Pesky has trouble getting a ball hit by Phil Rizzuto out of his glove. Dan Daniel of The New York World Telegram convinces Drebinger that it cannot be ruled an error because the ball was stuck in the fielder's glove, and Rizzuto is awarded a hit. In the sixth inning, with Trucks not having given up another hit, Drebinger calls Pesky in the dugout from the press box, and the SS says that he should be given the error rather than Rizzuto the hit. The call is changed again, and Trucks's no-hitter is preserved. Trucks's record is now 5-15.