Johnny Pesky passed away yesterday. The man who had embodied the Red Sox for more than six decades has gone home. Home to Ted, to Dominic and to his beloved Ruthie.
Johnny broke in with the Red Sox in 1942, lost three years to the war and played from 1946 (above) until his trade to the Tigers in 1952.
He managed the Red Sox in 1963,64 and for the last five games in 1980.
He coached first base with the Red Sox from 1975-1984.
He spent six seasons in the broadcast booth from 1969 through 1974.
He was the special assistant to the Red Sox General manager from 1985 through 1992, the special assistant for Red Sox player developement from 1993 through 1999 and he served as the Red Sox special assignment instructor from 2000 until his passing yesterday in his 61st season with the Red Sox organization! Pretty impressive resume heh, and it doesn’t even begin to tell the story.
When I first land of Johnny Pesky it was in a lamentable story of how he was held “holding the ball” while Enos “Country” Slaughter scored what proved to be the winning run. It was the seventh game of the 1946 World Series in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. The Red Sox had tied the score 3-3 in the top of the eighth on a two out, two run double by Dom DiMaggio.
Slaughter led off the bottom of the inning with a single and was still on first two outs later when Harry “the Cat” Breechen stepped in and lined a double to the left centerfield gap. The story goes that Slaughter caught Pesky by surprise as he never stopped running on the play and scored the decisive run. I, like so many Red Sox fans born in the 1950s, grew up thinking Pesky was the “goat” of the 1946 World Series. Then I actually saw the play. Yikes, talk about a misnomer, Pesky never had a chance, watch for yourself.
I was well into my thirties when I saw this for the first time and remembered thinking what an injustice it was for Pesky to wear those goathorns for so many years. The fact s that Slaughter’s mad dash was simply a great play and Pesky had no chance of throwing him out.
Enos Slaughters defining moment of his career.
Johnny Pesky passed away yesterday and he did so as the most beloved Red Sox of all time. Contemplate that. The most beloved man to ever don the Red Sox uniform. More beloved than Ted, Yaz, Fisk, Rice, Cronin, Doerr, Luis, Pedro or Papi! More beloved than the Idiots of ’04’, more beloved than them all.
It has been said that a picture is worth 1000 words and on this morning, I will let them speak.
Johnny was the MVP of the American Association in 1941 while playing for the Red Sox AA associate in Louisville. Here he is with the trophy and a lovely lady at Fenway Park in 1942. He made the jump from double A to the majors.
With Ted in 1942, he and Johnny were in naval flight school together.
He married Ruthie in 1945.
Red Sox pitcher “Boo” Ferris, Johnny and Manager Joe Cronin in the winter of 1946.
The Teammates, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky.
At home with the family circa 1950.
Johnny had a tendency to make people smile wherever he went.
With Gary Geiger.
With Yogi Berra.
Switching lids with Cardinal Cushing.
And who loved him the most?
And more fans
As Johnny’s years with the Red Sox tip toed bye and they suffered the anguishes of coming so close, so often he became more and more beloved. And then came 2004 and the elusive ring was his.
Johnny Pesky holds the railing on the right field facade as he prepares to unveil Jim Rice’s number 14, July 2009.
Johnny Pesky represented what it meant to the Red Sox players, organization and fans when they finally reached the mountain top that October. And the outpouring of love Johnny received from that team, those players and coaches spilled into Red Sox Nation and when the flag was finally raised on Opening Day 2005, it was Johnny’s hand that was on the rope and it was he who received the largest ovation. Not, Pedro, not Schilling, not Papi, not Manny, not Tito, but 84-year-old Johnny Pesky. And not one of them would have wanted it any other way!
World Champs at last.
Johnny and Tito.
Many, many years ago I had a very dear friend die of cancer. She was one of the most courageous people I have ever known and in her 18 month battle with the disease, she was supported by many. Weeks before her death, her son had a gathering at her home to thank the family and friends for all that they had done. He took his mom out for a ride on a beautiful spring Sunday while we folks gathered at home to surprise her. I will never forget the smile on her face when she walked in and saw what awaited her and through the smile she said, “oh a wake without the body, I like it”.
I thought of her as I watched Johnny Pesky at Fenway Park for its 100th Birthday celebration on April 20th of this year. As hundreds of former players gathered on that glorious field of dreams, it was Johnny and lifelong friend Bobby Doerr who were announced last. Pushed on to the field by the most recent retirees Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, they were accompanied by David Ortiz.
Bobby and Johnny
The “bookends” of Fenway Park’s 100 years.
And as they all gathered in the center of the field,
it was Johnny whom they all wanted to see and the outpouring of love was palpable!
So on this summer morn in the 100th year of Fenway Park, Johnny Pesky belongs to the ages. Forevermore enbronzed outside the park.
Forevermore remembered on Fenway facade,
Johnny ready to unveil Rice’s number 14.
Fisk unveils Pesky’s number 6.
Johnny Pesky belongs to the ages but he will never be gone from us, for those we carry in our hearts, never leave us.
God speed Johnny and thank you!
And so it is on this day in Fenway Park history, August 14, 2012,