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Pole vaults into center stage
10/24/2004 6:50 PM ET
BOSTON -- When it comes to Major League foul poles, the one sticking up in right field at Fenway Park is in a league of its own.

It even has its own name, if you can believe that.

Pesky's Pole is more famous than its buddy that rises high above the Green Monster in left field, the pole that caught Carlton Fisk's dramatic, walk-off home run that ended Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the eventual World Series champion Reds.

But Pesky's Pole received plenty of attention Saturday night in Game 1 of the 100th World Series.

Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz socked a three-run home run that sailed a few inches on the fair side of the foul pole in the first inning, Cardinals right fielder Larry Walker snuck a ball inside the pole in the third inning, and Mark Bellhorn cracked a game-winning, two-run homer that actually hit Pesky's Pole in the eighth inning, giving Boston an 11-9 victory.

"If the pole wasn't there, and if the stands went in about 50 more feet, I would have caught it," Walker said. "Unfortunately, it didn't work that way for us."

Bellhorn plays second base for the Red Sox, the latest in a long line of players who followed in Johnny Pesky's footsteps. Now 85 and one of the organization's legends of the fall, Pesky was at Fenway Saturday night and watched the ball Bellhorn hit to the screen on the famous piece of metal with numerous signatures on it.

"They paint the pole every year, and I go out there and sign it," Pesky said prior to Game 2. "Within a few days, there are a lot of names on it."

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Either Keith and Erin Walosz are extremely tall, or they brought a stepladder to one of the Red Sox's home games this season, because their names are the highest ones on the home-plate side of the pole. A man named Zach Winn put his mark on the pole, as did Lauron Kaylo and a few thousand others.

"It's very flattering to me, and I feel pretty good about it," Pesky said of the pole. "I only hit 17 home runs in 13 years. Ted [Williams] used to kid me about it. He would hit a ball about 400 feet and it would be caught and I'd hit one about 300 feet and wrap it around the pole for a home run."

Pesky's Pole is as much of a landmark at Fenway as Monument Park is at Yankee Stadium and the ivy at Wrigley Field. The pole is so close to home plate that right fielders actually catch fly balls that are hit deeper than the pole itself -- which stands just 302 feet away from the batter.

"I might have hit the pole once or twice, but back then it wasn't anything like the one they have up there now," Pesky said. "It basically was a piece of wood, maybe a two-by-four, and there wasn't a screen."

Progress is a wonderful thing.

So why the heck is it called Pesky's Pole?

In an interview with the Boston Globe two years ago, Pesky recalled the first time he heard his name associated with the yellow structure with a screen on it.

"It came from Mel Parnell, when he was broadcasting a game with Ken Coleman and Ned Martin one night," Pesky said. "Someone hit a home run down the line and right around the pole, and Mel started talking about a game that I hit one right around the pole to win it.

"The game was around '49 or '50 and it might have even hit the pole. I thought I hit eight [of them] near the pole, but they researched it and said I hit only six. Six is big for me. I hit about two a year. But Mel came up with the name 'Pesky Pole' in that broadcast years later, and it stuck."

Pesky said the wrap-around-the-pole home run he remembers the most came on Opening Day 1946, a two-run shot in the eighth inning that won the game.

But an event near the end of that season forever associated Pesky with what has become known as "The Curse of the Bambino" in New England.

The Red Sox and Cardinals were tied, 3-3, with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, when Enos Slaughter -- running on a full-count pitch to Harry "The Hat" Walker -- scored from first base on a double into the gap in left-center for the game-deciding run.

Pesky was criticized for holding onto the relay throw too long, allowing Slaughter to score, but Pesky said there was no way that he could have thrown the runner out at the plate.

The Red Sox have come close to becoming World Series champions since then, but always have come up just short and are still looking for their first title since 1918.

And the so-called curse, supposedly the result of the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, lives on. Pesky is still a part of the Red Sox family, a clan he joined in 1942.

There is a locker inside the small home-team clubhouse that he maintains, and the Fenway faithful give him long, loud ovations every time he is introduced. Few of them actually saw the pesty Pesky lead the American League in hits in each of the first three years of his big league career, something no one has done since. Not even Ichiro Suzuki.

His .313 career batting average ranks seventh on the franchise's all-time list and he was among the first players inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1995.

Maybe Pesky's Pole also will be inducted one of these years.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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