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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

We are led to believe a lie

When we see not with the eye.

                                                                                                William Blake

Pesky got a bum rap


(Fourth in a series of “Baseball’s Greatest Myths”)



Enos Slaughter won the ’46 Series, dashing from first to home as shortstop Johnny Pesky supposedly froze on the relay from centerfield.  It was a great and daring run, but if John froze, the camera didn't see it.  The official MLB game film shows John taking the throw, whirling, and pegging it home in one motion – too late.

When I wrote this in The Sporting News 25 years ago, I offered to buy a steak dinner for any reader who viewed the film and still believed that Pesky held the ball.  No one wrote in to claim his steak.

Gabe Schechter of the Hall of Fame says he detects a slight pause.  I think he held the ball for right around one second,” Schechter writes.  “He caught the ball, turned, saw Slaughter heading for the plate, and threw right away.  There was no delay between catching the ball and turning toward the plate, and no delay between spotting Slaughter and throwing the ball.  [John says he had to refocus from the bright sun to the deep shadows at home plate.]   There was only that one second it took for him to turn and see Slaughter.  Yes, the throw wasn't that good (kind of loopy), but I think Slaughter would have scored anyway.”  


But I don’t detect any pause.

I checked 19 major baseball beat writers, and half left didn't see it either.  They this angle completely out of their stories the next day. 

My guess is that, while everyone was watching Slaughter, someone in the press box, probably the AP writer, cried, “Did you see that?  Pesky held the ball!”  No one else had – they were all watching the runner -- but they didn't want to admit it, so half of them stuck it in their stories, down near the middle or end, to protect themselves.  Or, more likely, their editors inserted it after reading the AP lead.

The truth:  Slaughter got a good jump and scored from first on a double, a routine play. 

A few minutes earlier Dom DiMaggio, with perhaps the best arm in baseball, had hobbled off the field with a charley horse after his two-run double had tied the game.   “I never would have tried it,” Slaughter said, “if DiMaggio had been out there.” 

“I believe I'd have had a shot at him at third,” Dom says.

The real goats were Boston reliever Bob Klinger, who didn't hold Enos close; manager Joe Cronin, who didn't use his ace, Tex Hughson, in relief, and substitute centerfielder Leon Culberson, who made a weak lob to Pesky. 

Another myth has possible racial overtones.  It says that the Cardinals’ Cuban third base coach, Mike Gonzalez, was holding up his arms and yelling “No! No.”  Thus the macho Anglo-Saxon over-rode the timid Latin and brought victory to his team.  Actually, Mike was frantically waving his arms and yelling, “Go! Go!”

The myth that Johnny held the ball persists, kept alive by writers who have never seen either the game or the film.  It’s a cruel albatross that has been hung around Pesky’s neck.  Slaughter batted .300 lifetime, a modest figure for an outfielder with little power.  Pesky hit .307, making him one of the best-hitting shortstops ever.  Yet that seven-second dash put Slaughter in the Hall of Fame and has kept Pesky out while his New York contemporaries, Phil Rizzuto (.273) and Pee Wee Reese (.269) are in. 

And for Johnny, now 87, the sand in the hourglass is trickling steadily away.



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