FORT MYERS, Fla. - Johnny Pesky, who turns 88 in September, has been hit with another eviction notice by Major League Baseball.
MLB once again has decided to strictly enforce its rule governing who is allowed in a team’s dugout during a game, which means Pesky, who is in his 55th season with the club, can no longer sit on the bench during games. He’ll still be allowed in uniform before games, and on the field and in the clubhouse, but must vacate the dugout before the first pitch.
“We’ve been breaking the rule all along,” Sox general manager Theo Epstein said yesterday, “and they told us they were going to strictly enforce it - heavy fines that progressively get heavier every day he’s in the dugout.”
Pesky, who flew home before yesterday’s spring training finale here, was told by Sox manager Terry Francona of MLB’s decision earlier in the week.
“We told him we were fighting it,” Epstein said. “But MLB is unwavering. [Pesky] was a little upset.”
“He’ll lay low for awhile,” David Pesky said by phone last night, his father having already gone to bed. “The team wants him. That’s the most important thing. Thank God for baseball. That’s what keeps him going.”
This has happened before. In 1997, then-GM Dan Duquette informed Pesky that he could no longer be in uniform with the club, a policy that was revoked five years later when the new ownership group took control. Then, with just a few games left in the 2004 season, Pesky was informed that MLB was barring him from the dugout. He was watching from the stands when the Red Sox won the World Series in St. Louis.
But Pesky returned to the dugout the following spring, with MLB raising no objection, until this spring.
“This is not anything new,” said Joe Garagiola Jr., senior vice president for baseball operations, by telephone yesterday “I don’t want to sound like we’re the cops. None of us want to be cops.”
Neither the Red Sox nor Pesky are being singled out, Garagiola said.
“We made a comment at the [general managers’] meetings that teams had a legitimate expectation that we would enforce all rules. I have made comments repeatedly to the general managers and at the rules seminar - more in the nature of a reminder - that when we issue bulletins and directives, teams were expected to abide by them, and they were entitled to the expectation that the rules would be enforced in a uniform way.”
The rule governing dugout occupancy states that only the players, manager, and six coaches can be in uniform and in the dugout, Garagiola said. The rule used to be only five coaches, until bench coaches became in vogue. The trainer is allowed to be on the bench, and it is understood that the equipment manager and an assistant trainer would be going back and forth to the clubhouse, so their presence is accepted.
But others, including batting practice pitchers, interpreters, masseurs, and other extra staff, are not allowed.
“We’re not trying in any way to be discriminatory,” Garagiola said. “Teams feel with some justification that an extra person could be a potential advantage, an additional set of eyes and ears for a manager. Somebody’s job, for example, could be to bear down on the other club’s third base coach and pick up signs.
“We want to keep everybody at the same level. If somebody had seven, eventually some team is going to say, `We want to have eight. It would be impossible to make the distinction of who a person is and what his role is. We can’t get into that kind of micromanaging.”
Making an exception for an octogenarian icon, Garagiola said, is an example of the kind of distinctions MLB does not want to be drawing.
“Red Schoendienst is in uniform every night, down on the field, talking to players, hitting infield,” Garagiola said, invoking the name of the Cardinals’ Hall of Famer, who turned 84 last month. “But when the game starts, he’s sitting upstairs with Walt [Jocketty, the Cardinals GM].
“Cardinals fans can say Red Schoendienst is as beloved [as Pesky]. If [Pesky] can be on the bench, why not Schoendienst?”
In a matter that also affects the Sox, Garagiola said there was some discussion about allowing an interpreter to accompany the manager or pitching coach on a visit to the mound.
“We decided no,” Garagiola said. “The role of the interpreter involves situations where there is a potential injury to a player, and the player needs to express that. But on the whole, we feel the dugout should belong to the players, manager, and coaches in uniform and [essential] staff.
Garagiola said he was unaware of the Sox raising any objections to Pesky’s ouster, and all but ruled out the possibility MLB will make an exception.
“At this juncture, on the eve of the season, we’re not going to change our policy,” he said.