Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why I'm glad the Red Sox retired Johnny Pesky's number

Settle down. The Red Sox aren’t cheapening the meaning of retired numbers by putting number 6 on the right field façade. I couldn’t be happier that they are looking the other way with their rules for retired numbers on this one.

Was Pesky a great player. No, not really. He was a pretty good player. He made one all-star team, was in the top five in MVP voting a couple of times, led the league in hits a bunch of times and rarely ever struck out. Actually he’d fit the profile of what the Sox look for now pretty well.

He wasn’t a great player and he won’t be in the Hall of Fame but sometimes it’s about more than just stats when it comes to things like this. Pesky deserves to have his number retired because he’s more than just a former player/coach/broadcaster and current mascot. His 57 years of service have made him a part of Red Sox lore.

Johnny Pesky is just as much a part of the Red Sox and Fenway Park as his right field foul pole or any of the other players represented by the five (six counting Jackie Robinson) numbers lofting over the grandstand. That’s what this is about.

The current ownership has done an incredible job of getting things right since they took over in 2002. Of course it helps that the team has won a pair of World Series championships too, but making the decisions that they’ve made has been a key to the success of the franchise.

In 1999 Dan Duquette called Fenway Park economically obsolete and at that time seemingly everyone was pushing for a new stadium. When the current ownership took over they decided to go with upgrades to Fenway instead, I’d say it worked out pretty well. Fenway is literally an American cathedral and I for one can’t wait for the 100th birthday celebration in 2012.

Back to the point I was trying to make. Pesky is as much a part of the history of the franchise as anything else. Have you ever taken anyone to their first game at Fenway? What do you point out to them? The monster, CITGO sign, Pesky’s pole, the Yawkey morse code on the monster, the stories behind the other retired numbers and a host of other anecdotes about America’s favorite ballpark.

The team isn’t just honoring longevity, I agree it wouldn’t be worth it just to honor someone for being with the club for the better part of six decades, but Pesky is more than a guy that’s been around forever. He’s a symbol. And if you were one of the thousands of people to take in the Dark Knight at the Jordan’s IMAX you know that symbols invoke something in people.

Pesky is a symbol to the fans. A symbol of the storied teams of yesteryear, he’s a park of the folklore of the Red Sox. Maybe he was just the right guy in the right place at the right time but he tells a story and now the ‘6’ on the right field façade will continue to tell that story to fans for another six decades.

I get the disagreements. I understand people thinking its hokey to retire his number but like I said its about more than numbers in some cases. I don’t really get how anyone could be anything more than thrilled for the guy. I mean he’s almost 90 years old, he’s given his entire life to the Red Sox, and he’s Mr. Red Sox.

There are certainly some other players that are more deserving than Pesky in the traditional sense, Jim Rice, Tony C, Dom DiMaggio to name a few, but his story is unique.

This ownership has done well catering to the fans with the upgrades they’ve made to the park, they’ve made people say ‘to hell with a new stadium, we’ve got Fenway and that’s the way I like it’. Find a Yankees fan next year and ask them which stadium they like better old Yankee stadium or new. Sure the new one might be nicer, cleaner, have more luxury suites and better seats but deep down they’ll wish they never built the thing.

Johnny Pesky is a fixture of Fenway Park, so is his pole (snicker…) and now, rightfully so, is his number 6. Sitting next to his friends Bobby Doerr and Teddy Ballgame and the other Red Sox legends he reminds us of.

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