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Red Sox legend dies at age 92

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Red Sox legend dies at age 92

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- Adored by generations of Red Sox fans, Johnny Pesky was so much a part of Boston baseball that the right-field foul pole at Fenway Park was named for him. Pesky, who played, managed and served as a broadcaster for the Red Sox in a baseball career that lasted more than 60 years, died Monday. He was 92. "The national pastime has lost one of its greatest ambassadors," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "Johnny Pesky, who led a great American life, was an embodiment of loyalty and goodwill for the Boston Red Sox and all of Major League Baseball." Pesky died just more than a week after his final visit to Fenway, on Aug. 5 when Boston beat the Minnesota Twins 6-4. Yet for many in the legion of Red Sox fans, their last image of Pesky will be from the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park on April 20, when the man known for his warmth, kindness and outstanding baseball career was moved to tears at a pregame ceremony. By then the former shortstop was in a wheelchair positioned at second base, surrounded by dozens of admiring former players and a cheering crowd. "I feel like part of the Red Sox tradition just died because when I think of Johnny I think of him hitting fungos at spring training. We will all miss him so much," ex-pitcher Pedro Martinez said in comments provided by the Red Sox. "He was such a representative of everything that happened in Boston. It's hard to think of the success, defeat, and all we went through without Johnny. You couldn't do anything without Johnny Pesky." It was at another ceremony less than six years earlier that Pesky's name was officially inscribed in the rich history of the Red Sox and their home, a fitting tribute to a career .307 hitter and longtime teammate and friend of Ted Williams. On his 87th birthday, Sept. 27, 2006, a plaque was unveiled at the base of the foul pole just 302 feet from home plate, designating it "Pesky's Pole." The term was coined by former Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell, who during a broadcast in the 1950s recalled Pesky winning a game for him with a home run around the pole. From there, a legend seemed to grow that Pesky frequently curled shots that way -- actually, only six of his 17 career home runs came at Fenway. In fact, team records show that Pesky never hit a home run at Fenway in which Parnell was the winning pitcher. Still, Pesky's spot in the hearts of Red Sox players and fans alike is indisputable. "This is a very sad day for me and for anyone who has ever spent any time with Mr. Pesky. He was the most positive influence I ever came across who wore the Red Sox uniform," said Jason Varitek, the team's former captain. "He was always there through the good and bad times with the same smile and passion for his team. Hello my honeysuckle, hello my honey bee, my ever lovin' Jason just got three,' Johnny used to say, wishing me three hits that night." Even though Pesky was a fan favorite, he still had his own place of notoriety in Boston's drought of 86 years without a championship. He was long blamed for holding the ball on a key relay in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, though it's a place that many now think is undeserved. "Johnny Pesky will forever be linked to the Boston Red Sox," team president Larry Lucchino said. "He has been as much a part of Fenway Park as his retired Number 6 that rests on the right-field facade, or the foul pole below it that bears his name." Pesky died at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, according to Solimine, Landergan and Richardson funeral home in Lynn. The funeral home did not announce a cause of death. "I've had an interesting life," Pesky told The Associated Press in 2005. "I have no complaints." In New York, a moment of silence was held at Yankee Stadium before Monday night's game against the Texas Rangers. The crowd gave a nice round of applause. "There wasn't a greater gentleman of the game," said Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, a star third baseman with both the Red Sox and Yankees. "Johnny was loved by everyone. He would light up your day when he walked in the room." Longtime Red Sox fans recall the days when Pesky was a talented shortstop and manager for the team. Younger ones saw him as an avuncular presence at the Red Sox spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla. It was there that Pesky would encourage young players and hit grounders to infielders with his ever-present fungo bat. He stopped doing that as he aged but still spent time sitting in a folding chair, his bat by his side, signing autographs and chatting with fans of all ages. "I've had a good life with the ballclub," Pesky told the AP in 2004. "I just try to help out. I understand the game, I've been around the ballpark my whole life." Pesky was a special assignment instructor in 2004 when the Red Sox won their first championship in 86 years. Tears of joy glistened in his eyes when the World Series was over. "One of my career memories was hugging and kissing Johnny pesky after we won it all in 04, God Rest and God Bless his gentle soul, I miss you," Curt Schilling, who starred on that team, tweeted. Current Red Sox players also took to Twitter. David Ortiz: "A very dark day today for red sox nation." Jon Lester: "Just heard we lost one of the good ones today. A great player and an even better man, rest in peace Johnny, thank you for the memories." Pesky played 10 years in the majors, the first seven-plus with Boston. His No. 6 was retired by the Red Sox at a ceremony in 2008. Pesky stood under an umbrella at home plate that day, wearing the team's white home uniform. "All of Red Sox Nation mourns the loss of Mr. Red Sox,' Johnny Pesky," Boston mayor Thomas Menino said. "He loved the game and he loved the fans -- and we loved him. His dedication to the sport and his passion to improve the game through the mentorship of young players will be sorely missed. Our hearts go out to the Red Sox organization and all of Johnny's family and many friends." Former Red Sox first baseman and outfielder Kevin Millar was one of them. "Johnny is the greatest man I have ever met in this wonderful game," he said. Born John Michael Paveskovich in Portland, Ore., Pesky first signed with the Red Sox organization in 1939 at the urging of his mother. A Red Sox scout had wooed her with flowers and his father with fine bourbon. His parents, immigrants from what is now Croatia, didn't understand baseball, but they did understand that the Red Sox were the best fit for their son even though other teams offered more money. He played two years in the Red Sox minor league system before making his major league debut in 1942. That season he set the team record for hits by a rookie with 205, a mark that stood until 1997 when fellow Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, with whom he became very close, had 209. He also hit .331 his rookie year, second in the American League only to Williams, who hit .356. Pesky spent the next three years in the Navy during World War II, although he did not see combat. He was back with the Red Sox through 1952, playing with the likes of Williams, who died in 2002, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio, before being traded to the Detroit Tigers. (In 2003, author David Halberstam told the story of Pesky, Williams, Doerr and DiMaggio in his book "The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship.") Doerr, a Hall of Fame second baseman and Pesky's longtime double-play partner, said the two were friends since 1934, when Doerr broke into the Pacific Coast League with the Hollywood Stars and Pesky was the clubhouse boy in Portland. "He would hang your jockstrap up. He would hang your wet sweat shirt up. That's kind of how close we were," the 94-year-old Doerr told the AP from his home in Junction City, Ore. "We got to be good friends. When he got to the Red Sox, we roomed together. "He was good to play alongside of. He hit a lot of line drives. He could run. He beat out a lot of balls to first base," Doerr recalled. "When he got a good pitch to hit, he hit it." Pesky was often said to have held the ball for a split second as Enos Slaughter made his famous "Mad Dash" from first base to score the winning run for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Red Sox in the deciding game of the 1946 World Series. With the score tied at 3, Slaughter opened the bottom of the eighth inning with a single. With two outs, Harry Walker hit the ball to center field. Pesky, playing shortstop, took the cutoff throw from outfielder Leon Culberson, and according to some newspaper accounts, hesitated before throwing home. Slaughter, who ran through the stop sign at third base, was safe at the plate, and the best-of-seven series went to the Cardinals. "I thought he got rid of it pretty good. There was no fault of Johnny's on that," Doerr said. Pesky always denied any indecision, and analysis of the film appeared to back him up, but the myth persisted. "In my heart, I know I didn't hold the ball," Pesky once said. Pesky spent two years with the Tigers and Senators before starting a coaching career that included a two-year stint as Red Sox manager in 1963 and 1964. He came back to the Red Sox in 1969 and stayed there, even filling in as interim manager in 1980 after the club fired Don Zimmer. "Johnny bleeds Red Sox red. He couldn't do enough to help you out," former Boston outfielder Fred Lynn said. "John was our hitting coach and he was almost like a dad to me. When I'd line out he'd say, Hey, you see that guy standing there? Don't hit it there. You're a college guy.' Being with Johnny was like being with my dad all day. I always joked that Johnny hit 200 singles in a year, and I hit 200 in my career." Pesky is survived by a son, David. His wife, Ruth, whom he married in 1944, died in 2005.

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was twice asked about making in-season changes at his Monday press conference.

He wouldn’t rule it out. Del Rio said he would do anything necessary to help the team “win now,” and later said "we're not getting into staff questions this week."

Then he fired Ken Norton Jr. the next day, hoping the dismissal will provide a spark.

It might. More likely, it might not do enough.

It is a shot across the bow at its base, a signal that subpar play won't be tolerated. 

“We played under our talent level,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said, “Those things come with consequences.”

New play caller John Pagano has a unique style and knows how to bring creative pressure, disguise a simple play as complex and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system this season. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s scheme and, more importantly, he’s still playing chess with existing, often inferior pieces. The Raiders understand that, and likely won't judge him on this final stretch alone. 

Why? The defense doesn’t have enough talent in the secondary, the interior defensive line or the inside linebacker corps. That’s not on Norton or Pagano.

Pagano can’t do a thing about an offense struggling mightily to catch passes, block consistently and let plays develop downfield.

The Raiders have some major talent problems, with rush and coverage rarely working together as desired. That, and some uninspired schematics, have produced awful statistics.

The Raiders don’t have an interception, and are the first team to go 10 games without a pick. They’re on track to have the second-worst opposing completion percentage (72.3) and passer rating (113.3) in NFL history, per the Associated Press.

They’re also last in sacks for the second straight year, with just 14 this season despite having reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack.

They're thin because last year's second and third round picks, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun aren't contributing. This year's draft class had to make an immediate impact, but Gareon Conley played two games, Obi Melifonwu spent eight games on IR and Eddie Vanderdoes as underwhelmed after a promising start.

Highly paid free agents haven't performed well enough, and many could be shown the door.

It’s possible roughly half of the starting lineup doesn’t return next season, with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman likely out the door as free agents or roster cuts.

In sum, this isn’t all Norton’s fault.

He was, however, the easiest cut. You can’t fire players en masse during the year, and Pagano was an easy replacement without disrupting the position coaches. Pagano has extensive experience calling plays. He was the then-San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2012-16.

Norton wasn’t an innovative play caller. He was passed over for coordinator jobs while serving as Seattle’s linebackers coach, after Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn were hired as head coaches. Del Rio, who played with Norton in Dallas back from 1989-91, hired Norton shortly after being hired by the Raiders.

The Raiders' defense has never been good under Norton/Del Rio, and Norton was on a hot seat most of last season. It was surprising when Pagano was hired that Norton was retained and allowed to continue despite underwhelming performance.

Norton was immensely popular in the locker room, especially with members of the front seven. Mack and Irvin in particular were Norton guys. Norton and Irvin go way back to Irvin’s Seattle days, where the coach helped the player get and stay on the right path.

That’s why this firing was deeply felt on Tuesday. The players were told in an afternoon meeting, following a walk-through focused on corrections from Sunday’s New England loss.

"The axe came down on everybody," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. Players, we love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing. We are.”

The Raiders are 4-6, and can’t afford to lose many more games. They might need to be perfect down the stretch to avoid a messy tiebreaker situation. That’s a tough ask for a team that’s been woefully inconsistent on both sides. This team was always expected to shoot for the middle defensively and have a potentially great offense score points by the bushel.

The offense has been most disappointing, performing far below its pay grade and talent level. There was no movement on that side of the ball. The Raiders hope, with fingers firmly crossed, this defensive change provide the spark necessary to create turnovers and quarterback pressure than has been lacking in a disastrous season to this point.

Playing in OKC is no longer a big deal for Durant: 'Just a regular game'

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AP

Playing in OKC is no longer a big deal for Durant: 'Just a regular game'

Kevin Durant in his first season with the Warriors faced three benchmark games, two of which were against the Cavaliers and, specifically, LeBron James. The third was his return to Oklahoma City, where Durant created his NBA legend.

With all eyes on him, Durant aced all three exams. He was individually better than LeBron, twice, and when he arrived in Oklahoma City last February, with thousands of emotionally wounded fans targeting him for ridicule, he ravaged his former team.

Durant totaled a team-high 34 points (12-of-21 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep, 7-of-7 from the line), nine rebounds and three assists in a 130-114 rout.

So there will be no such dramatic backdrop Wednesday when Durant takes the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and it is anticipated his sprained left ankle will have healed sufficiently enough to allow him to play. Regardless of whether he plays, hHs return this time simply will not generate the tremendous local turbulence it did last season.

“It was a pretty fun moment to be a part of,” Durant told reporters at practice Tuesday. “You always respect the players on the court. And the people that have stuff to say about what’s going on on the court, they really don’t matter.

“So I just tried to go out there and think about that. Just realize that the players on the court are the most important and I know if I don’t focus and lock in, I won’t play to the best of my ability. I tried to block out all the nonsense and the BS and just go out there and play.”

There should be considerably less BS and nonsense this time around, for this is a more evolved Durant and this is not the OKC team he left behind, shattered in a dozen little pieces scattered around a new solo act that was Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook now has two fellow All-Stars at his side. OKC general manager Sam Presti navigated offseason deals to acquire both Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. There is a sense that the reloaded Thunder can make some playoff noise, and that matters in the wake of a steep drop last postseason.

Having spent most of a day interviewing locals in advance of the Warriors-Thunder game last season, it was apparent those folks were heartbroken by KD’s departure but perhaps more crestfallen about what little was left of their beloved team.

Durant, who remains connected to some of his personal causes in OKC, seems to recognize that. It’s enough to assuage any unease he may have felt for the fans that once adored him.

Asked Tuesday if there was any lingering sentiment about returning to the place where he spent eight seasons, Durant barely hesitated.

“No, it’s just a regular game for me now,” he said. “I learned how to tune out the crowd. I learned how to tune out the b------t and just play. Just keep it at basketball and I’ll be all right.”

It has been 16 months since Durant woke up on the morning of July 4 and announced his decision to sign with the Warriors. Durant has adapted to the Bay Area. He drives the local streets, rides BART every so often and has his favorite spots. He has his hands all over the high-tech industry that drives so much of the energy here.

Durant has moved deeply into the next phase of his career and has his eyes on his post-career options. OKC was home for most of his NBA life, but he now lives elsewhere.

Kevin Durant is in a good place, in most every way, and he likes it.

“I’ve been in the league for this long and been in every situation as a basketball player: losing games, winning games, overtime games, winning a championship, losing a championship, MVP, coming in second in the MVP,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been through everything in the league as an individual player. All those experiences have given me knowledge and given me insight on the game and what it’s about.

“It’s pretty simple when you think about it. You work, you work, you work. You gain experience, you gain knowledge and when it’s time to give it to somebody else you do it. When it’s time to apply it to your game, you just apply it when you play. “

When KD steps on the floor Wednesday and sees George and Anthony behind Westbrook, he can’t help but feel the difference. He has moved on and so have the Thunder.

There is reason, good reason, to believe the man when he says going back this time is just another game.