Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky, who passed away Monday at 92, left quite a résumé in Boston. He was an All-Star infielder, manager and special assignment instructor as well as a Red Sox Hall of Famer. His No. 6 jersey is retired by the club.
But all of those accomplishments take a back seat to Pesky's most popular mark in Boston. He is the namesake of Pesky's Pole, the indented right field foul pole, at Fenway Park.
Which brings up the next question: How did a foul pole get nicknamed after a guy who hit just 17 career home runs?
To debunk the first batch of rumors, Pesky did not make a living off home runs down the right field line and he never hit a clutch postseason home run Carlton Fisk-style down the line. In fact, Pesky hit only six of his 17 career home runs at Fenway Park.
The name came courtesy of left-handed pitcher Mel Parnell, Pesky's Red Sox teammate from 1947-1952. As the story goes, Parnell was pitching a game in the late 1940s when Pesky hit a late-inning home run that hooked around the pole. The homer put the Red Sox ahead and helped Parnell get the victory. In the 1960s, while broadcasting Red Sox games for the team's radio and television affiliates, Parnell started to spread his nickname for the pole.
In a June 2, 2002, story in The Boston Globe, Pesky recalled Parnell's development of the name:
"It came from Mel Parnell when he was broadcasting a game with Ken Coleman and Ned Martin one night. Someone hit a home run down the line and right around the pole, and Mel started talking about a game I hit one right around the pole to win it. The game was around '49 or '50, and I hit one late that won it for us. It might have even hit the pole. I had only 17 home runs in my career. I thought I hit eight right near the pole, but they researched it and said I hit only six. Six is big for me. I hit about two a year. But Mel came up with the name 'Pesky Pole' in that broadcast years later, and it stuck."
Now, to debunk the second batch of rumors.
The baseball history books claim Pesky hit just one of his six Fenway home runs in a game started by Parnell. That long ball was a two-run blast in the first inning of a June 11, 1950, game against the Tigers. Vic Wertz of the Tigers hit a three-run home run in the 14th inning to give the Tigers a victory. Parnell left the ballpark with a no-decision.
Although the romanticized legend of Pesky's Pole is not completely accurate, the area where the right field wall meets the foul pole continues to be a Fenway Park attraction. On September 27, 2006, Pesky's 87th birthday, the pole was officially named Pesky's Pole in his honor.
A plaque was placed along the fence below the pole. Part of the inscription reads:
"A landmark of Fenway Park originally intended by Mel Parnell to kindly tease about the relatively short distance of his teammate's home runs. The significance of the name grew with the affection accorded by generations of fans over seven decades who were beneficiaries of his enduring kindness and admirers of his unwavering loyalty."
Parnell passed away of cancer in March at the age of 89. Although the world has lost the two most famous characters in the pole's rich history, their legacies live on both on the plaque and as part of Red Sox culture.
While the Green Monster may be the alpha male of the Fenway Park fences, Pesky's Pole is the McHale to the Monster's Bird. That's good enough for the people of Boston.
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