There are many quirks associated with playing baseball in Fenway Park. The American League’s oldest home field, the park has many iconic features: the Green Monster, the Triangle, the smallest amount of foul territory in the big leagues, and Pesky’s Pole. The rulebook and ground rules are never far when playing a game in Fenway – too many nooks and crannies exist. Hanley Ramirez hit the “cheapest” homer in MLB, placing one just inside the foul pole that is named for franchise icon, Johnny Pesky.
The right field foul pole at Fenway stands just 302 feet from home plate – a (technical) violation of Major League Baseball’s rulebook entry on the minimum dimensions. The location of the fair/foul pole was grandfathered into existence both by necessity – Fenway has the smallest footprint of any stadium in the big leagues – and by desire to honor John Michael Paveskovich, aka Johnny Pesky.
The shortstop played just eight seasons in Boston, and while he was an All-Star at shortstop, he was far from a Hall of Fame talent, like his teammates Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr. When he was traded to the Detroit Tigers in the middle of 1952, no one in Boston would have guessed his name would eventually be synonymous with the ballpark, but Williamsburg has come and gone, while Pesky’s Pole endures.
After he retired as a player, Pesky started coaching: first in the New York Yankees minor league system, and then as a manager in the Tigers system. He returned to the Red Sox organization in 1961 as a minor league manager – and he never left. From the spring of 1961 through the spring of 2012, Pesky was an annual fixture. He occupied some role or another – minor league manager, big league manager, coach, advisor, instructor, unofficial mascot – putting on a uniform on most days. For the next 51 years, Pesky was a Red Sox.
To hear Johnny tell his own tale, the pole was named by former teammate and broadcaster Mel Parnell. The ex-pitcher hung the moniker on the pole because the only homers Pesky ever hit – he had just 17 in a ten-year career – were the type to sneak just inside the foul pole. Some men might have resented a joke about their lack of power, but not Pesky. He was an affable, amiable gentleman who loved baseball – and everything about it. He considered himself lucky to have been a teammate of Williams and of Doerr, and knew his fame would always pale in comparison. He was honored to have fun poked at his lack of power as a player – and to receive recognition for his staying power as a franchise icon.
Rewarding the loyal organizational ambassador and standard-bearer, the club officially named the right field pole Pesky’s Pole in 2006. Though he passed away at the age of 93 on August 13, 2012 – still putting on his uniform whenever they’d let him – a new generation of Red Sox fans will eventually get to know the story of Johnny Pesky, thanks to the pole that bears his name. Because at least once or twice a season, someone does this:
Hanley Ramirez hits that ball about 305 feet, total. In any other park, that is an out – a ball shagged by a hustling outfielder just outside the foul line in medium right field. The MLB rulebook stipulates that the minimum distance from plate to the right field (or left field) stands should be no less than 325 feet – except in Fenway. Partially because years ago, the Red Sox received permission from the league to have a non-standard field configuration, but partially because in 1961 Johnny Pesky started showing up for work – and didn’t stop for 51 years.