Two years ago, the Red Sox formally named the right field foul pole "Pesky's Pole". If you listen to a national broadcast or an out-of-town announcing team from Fenway, chances are that sometime during the night, they will mention the history behind the pole. If you are lucky, they'll offer a benign explanation. The worst offenders, however, are the ones who call it "the Pesky Pole" and then never explain why, leaving casual viewers in the dark -- or thinking perhaps that the pole itself is pesky, like maybe it moves sometimes.
In June 2002, Pesky told the Globe that Mel Parnell
was broadcasting a game with Ken Coleman and Ned Martin one night [between 1965 and 1968]. 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. ... Mel came up with the name "Pesky Pole" in that broadcast ... and it stuck.I have often wondered whether these stories are true. Were most of Pesky's home runs hit down the right field line -- listed as 302 feet from home plate though probably more like 295? Did most of them barely sneak into the stands?
Pesky, a left-handed batter, hit 17 home runs in his 10-year major league career. He hit 13 of them with the Red Sox -- and six were hit at Fenway Park.
Rob Neyer, in "Feeding The Green Monster" (his account of attending every game at Fenway in 2000), states that he had read* how Pesky's home runs had "often" hit the pole. Neyer was naturally suspicious, so he got the dates of Pesky's Fenway home runs and went off to look at microfilm of the Globe and Herald.
(*: Looking through my own books, I cannot find any reference to Pesky actually hitting the pole with a home run. Almost all of what I see online states that Pesky hit his home runs "just beyond" or "around the pole". And oddly, "Red Sox Century" does not mention the pole at all.)
Neyer lists the six home runs and quotes from the two newspapers on page 70 of his book:
August 18, 1942
Globe: "nearness to the foul line"April 20, 1946
Herald: "barely penetrated the stands"
Globe: "into the second or third row"August 8, 1946
Herald: "a few feet ... fair"
Globe: "three feet inside the foul pole"June 11, 1950
Herald: "into the right field ... grandstand"
Globe: "into the right field pavilion"June 18, 1951
Herald: (no specifics)
Globe: "a good way beyond the foul pole"August 2, 1951
Herald: "into the right field grandstand"
Globe: "into the right field grandstand"It's clear that Pesky never hit the right field pole with a batted ball, though it appears that perhaps three of his home runs -- hit over the course of two seasons (five years) -- landed near the pole. I don't know how much of a pull hitter Pesky was, but he never hit a home run in Boston over the Wall or to center field.
Herald: "into the right field stands"
In that Globe interview, Pesky mentions winning a game for Parnell with a shot "around the pole" late in a game. (Some accounts say it was a walk-off home run.) However, this never happened. Only one of Pesky's six Fenway home runs came in a game pitched by Parnell. That was on June 11, 1950 and Pesky's two-run shot came in the first inning. In addition, Boston lost that game (in 14 innings) -- the Tigers swept a doubleheader that day -- and Parnell got a no-decision.
Pesky also told the Globe:
The one I remember most was Opening Day 1946 when I hit a two-run homer in the eighth right around the pole to win it for us.This may be correct. Pesky did hit a home run on Opening Day in 1946(April 20) -- and Boston won the game 2-1. I do not have a box score to confirm the inning.
From the evidence above, the legend of Pesky and his pole may be partially accurate and partially a myth. Maybe Pesky hit many foul balls down the right field line that were almost home runs -- and that added to the legend in the mind of people like Parnell? Perhaps, but in my recollection, no one has ever mentioned his propensity to hit foul balls down the line. It is always home runs -- and home runs only.
But none of this should detract from what Pesky has done for the Red Sox organization over the last six decades. I'm glad the club is willing to bend its strict (and quite possibly outdated) rules regarding retired numbers, because if anyone deserves the honor, it's John Michael Paveskovich.