Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Major League Cruelty in a Minor Matter
(10/5/2004) 10/24/2004

Johnny Pesky is a former major league baseball player of considerable note. He was the shortstop on the great Boston Red Sox teams of the 1940s, and he was a lifetime .300 hitter; indeed, had he not lost his prime years to military service during WWII, Johnny Pesky might well be in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Pesky, or “Needle,” as he is affectionately known, is 85 now. After a 65 year career as a Red Sox player, manager, coach, broadcaster and good will ambassador, he comes to the park each day and suits up to hit fungos before the game and to sit at the end of the dugout, regaling players with tales of his buddies Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Dom DiMaggio. And he imbues the young Sox with his love of the game while giving them a sense of the team’s history and continuity.

Major League Baseball has rules about who can sit in the dugouts, of course; it doesn’t want major league dugouts and bullpens to become the equivalents of the Lincoln bedroom, rented out to season ticket holders and corporate sponsors. The rules are rigidly written enough to technically exclude Pesky, but the “suits’ in New York saw no harm in letting a grand old man of the game and genuinely nice guy spend his twilight years doing the only thing he knows. So Johnny has had his spot in the Red Sox dugout for two decades.

That was until Jim Beattie, general manager of the Baltimore Orioles recently made a pointed inquiry to the Major League Baseball high command asking why the Red Sox were being allowed to break the rules, and why Pesky was getting special treatment. Reluctantly, MLB told the Red Sox that Pesky had to go, upsetting the players, angering the fans, and, according to all reports, breaking Johnny Pesky’s heart.

“We all have to live by the same rules,” Beattie has said.

You remember when you were a kid, and some old lady used to do nothing all day but watch the playground, hoping to catch some infraction that she could report to your parents, the dog catcher, or best of all, the police? Jim Beattie is like that. Following rules are important; there is no argument with that sound principle. But rational people recognize when mindlessly enforcing a rule does human damage and no good; when it hurts someone without any pretense that the particular enforcement was necessary or even wise. This is the mindset that Jim Peacock strives to encourage on his excellent website,, where he chronicles incidents of “zero tolerance” rule enforcement in our schools. But at least the mindlessly strict school administrators have some real pressure on them to behave irrationally: if they exercise discretion in one case, they risk having to defend their judgement in court the next time they choose to enforce the rule it made no sense to follow earlier.

Beattie doesn’t even have that excuse. Nobody was being hurt. This minor rule infraction meant nothing to anybody except Johnny Pesky, and to him, it meant everything. Pesky’s presence on the bench did not confer any strategic advantages on the Red Sox in their games with Baltimore; anyone who watched Johnny manage the Sox from 1962-1964 will vouch for that. He did not disrupt the games or create a distraction. Beattie called for the enforcement of the rule simply because he could. It was an act of gratuitous cruelty and meanness, undertaken for no other apparent reason other than to feed Beattie’s complete callousness and indulge his inability to raise a shred of empathy for the feelings of a fellow former player, an elderly Boston icon, and a man who has been noted throughout his life for generosity and kindness.

Sometimes within small gestures are the worst ethical violations of all. This is one of those times.

UPDATED 10/24: Reader Tom Bonier has notified The Scoreboard that a petition to let Pesky sit in the Sox dugout during the World Series has been established at I’ve signed it. Baseball buffs may recall that Pesky was designated the "goat" of the Sox-Cards Series in 1946, when Enos Slaughter scored the winning run while Red Sox shortstop Pesky supposedly "held the ball." It would be especially appropriate for him to be on hand as his beloved Sox seek to avenge that defeat.


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