Johnny Pesky, the soul of the Boston Red Sox since 1942, died today. He was 92 years old.
I don’t have a personal story to relay on this remarkable man, a career .307 hitter who spent 61 seasons with the Red Sox, and who gave three seasons serving America during World War II. Not that he didn’t meet a lot of folks in the region, I was just never lucky enough to be one of them.
My foremost memory of the man comes at the tail end of a middling season, not unlike the one the Red Sox are working through right now, where his boundless enthusiasm for the game presented itself once again.
I believe it was late in the 2006 season, when the Red Sox were reeling from a period where nearly their entire starting lineup was on the disabled list — Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp, Jonathan Papelbon, Alex Gonzalez, on and on, no one seemed safe. That September, Dustin Pedroia got his first taste of big-league action, and I distinctly remember seeing footage of Pedroia taking groundballs at second base with Pesky, then 85 years old.
Pedroia looked, at least defensively, like he was going to be a solid Major Leaguer, and he was never short on confidence. But even he was taken aback by the spry old man, who had sprung up from his folding chair to show him how to get down on the ball, how to wrap the throw back to first, how to crack a joke or two while it was happening.
It’s a lost little bit of trivia, a moment that repeated itself countless times with hundreds of players through the years, at the top level down through the minors, wherever Pesky worked. The ever-present love of baseball is the legacy that Pesky will leave on the game. He was a kind man, a teacher who never grew tired of showing kids how to get down on the ball, how to wrap a hit down the line, how to play the carom off the Green Monster.
He loved the Red Sox, and he loved baseball. For his efforts, for all the love of the game, the team and the fans that he put out in the air, he was overwhelmingly loved in return by all of New England.
Johnny Pesky, you will be missed.