The city of Boston, New England, and the baseball world is mourning a legend today. Johnny Pesky, died at age 92 yesterday. He was the elder statesman of the Boston Red Sox, a player, coach, manager, announcer, fan and all around goodwill representative. I met him once when I was at spring training with Avi in 2008. He signed a baseball which sits on my desk in my office. He was a fine gentleman and a great ambassador to the game.
He was a very special man in Boston and judging by the 3 column obit in the New York Times and others in every major paper in the country, we’re not exaggerating when we realize what a loss this is. Even if you are not a baseball fan, it is worth learning something from his story. Pesky was a very solid baseball player but his biggest claim to fame perhaps was the so-called mistake he made in the 1946 World Series. I say so-called because there is some disagreement as to whether it really was as bad as all that or if the play has become exaggerated over time. The winning run of the series scored while Pesky “held the ball” for a second or less at shortstop instead of throwing it to the catcher. I’ve seen the video and it’s inconclusive. But it doesn’t matter, in baseball lore, he still “held the ball” and the Red Sox lost the series.
But, somehow, Johnny Pesky rose above that moment. He didn’t let it deter him and he didn’t let the occasional taunts of fans keep him from staying connected with his beloved Red Sox. He always denied making a mistake on the play and I believe him. But, the important thing is that he kept putting on the uniform and remained part of this team. Even a rather unspectacular stretch as manager in the 60s didn’t keep him away.
And so he sat at spring training each year and gave advice to the players, talked to the fans, signed the autographs and with great modesty and class reminded everyone of what sports really is about and what baseball, at least to an extent, used to be. It’s not just nostalgia that made fans like me gravitate towards him. It was what he represented and how much he loved the game that mattered.
When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Johnny Pesky watched the last inning from the clubhouse. There is a great video of the preparations taking place in the locker room for the celebration during that 9th inning and through all of the hubbub of people moving in the champagne and the platforms and tv lights, Johnny Pesky sits on a folding chair in a topcoat. He watches intently with tears glistening his eyes as he watches the Curse of the Bambino which he knew so well broken. When the game is over, he jumps up, hugs the people around him and then waits for the players. And as each comes in to the clubhouse, they run past him and then stop in their tracks, realize who was standing there and go back and hug him.
Red Sox fans are known to be emotional. This year has been a disappointment. Better years are ahead, hopefully. But, they won’t seem quite the same without Johnny Pesky and all he meant to all of us.