Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Call to Action: Put Pesky’s Posterior back on the Pine!

A National Treasure needs our help. Let me explain.

I have written in past postings in The White Rhino Report about my work as a volunteer at Fenway Park as part of a program called Autograph Alley. Before each home game, the Red Sox bring back a former player who signs autographs for fans in a special location just inside the ballpark near the Yawkey Way entrance. Last night’s Red Sox alumnus was none other than the venerable Johnny Pesky, inspiration for the naming of the eponymous “Pesky Pole” in right field. Johnny first played for the Red Sox in 1942, and was a beloved teammate of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and other baseball legends. The story of their unique bond of friendship was told beautifully by the recently deceased David Halberstam in his book “The Teammates.”

Pesky has served the organization as a player, manager and coach for over 55 years. And, until recently, he was a fixture on the Red Sox bench during home games. He is no longer allowed to occupy that position during games. See Gordon Edes Boston Globe column of March 30 for the details.

Last evening, as I handed out photographs of Pesky in uniform in his playing days, numerous fans offered their opinion about Major League Baseball’s decision to assiduously enforce a rule that no one cares about. “Pesky needs to be back in the dugout.” “It’s not right that Johnny can’t sit on the bench!” “Tell Johnny we want to see him back where he belongs!”

As Johnny was signing the last of the hundreds of autographs that he penned last night, I sat with him at the Autograph Alley table. He began to reminisce about his life. “I have had a pretty good life; I can’t complain. You know my wife died two years ago. I really miss her. . . . We were married 61 years!” Johnny continued, telling me about how they met while he serviced in the Navy during WWII and Ruth was serving as a WAVE. She was from Lynn, Massachusetts, and they were married in 1945 at Lynn’s St. Joseph’s Parish. Johnny returns there all too frequently nowadays for the funerals of his friends and contemporaries. He is at that stage in life when there are more funerals than weddings.

Pesky is 88 years old, and still is considered the best fungo hitter on the Red Sox. He is still able to make a contribution to the game that has been his life for much of Red Sox history. Johnny was born in 1919 - the year the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees!

Red Sox Nation has been deeply impacted this season by the addition of two outstanding pitchers – Hideiki Okajima and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Thousands of fans and hundreds of Japanese media follow each pitch that these men threw for the Sox, and Red Sox Nation has been enriched by their addition. I would like to suggest one more way that we can benefit from the new Japanese flavor of the team. The Japanese culture does a better job than we do in honoring senior citizens who have made a lasting contribution to a field of art or sport or national affairs. They declare such persons to be Important Intangible Cultural Properties, more commonly known as Living National Treasures. I propose that we urge Major League Baseball - in particular, Commissioner Bud Selig and Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, Joe Gargiola, Jr. – to find a way to grant an exemption for the likes of Pesky and Cardinals’ Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst. Declare them Living National Baseball Treasures. Grant them “grandfather clause” status. Amend the rule so that someone who has worked in baseball for over 55 years is allowed on the bench. Do something. Be creative.

So, let’s have some fun and put some pressure on MLB to do the right thing. I urge you – whether or not you are a Red Sox fan – to contact Selig or Gargiola and express your desire that they find a creative way to allow Johnny Pesky back in the dugout. I plan to write and to call, and on my next visit to NYC, I will also stop by the Commissioner’s office to put in my two cents worth on the issue. I ask you to invest five minutes and take some action, as well. I know that Johnny will appreciate it. Please inform me of what you have done, and I will pass the word along to Johnny Pesky so that he will be aware of your support.

Pesky’s parents were born in Zagreb, Croatia – a city that I have visited in my travels. So, Pesky and I often greet each other or say good-bye in Croatian. As I left him last night, his parting words to me were: "laku noć" – “Good night!”

Let’s give him some good nights back on the bench on the Red Sox dugout. On Johnny’s behalf, I thank you in advance for your support.


The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball

Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Commissioner

Joe Garagiola, Jr., Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations

245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10167
Phone: (212) 931-7800

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