Johnny Pesky, Red Sox legend, dies at 92

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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.”

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.”)

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.

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