Johnny Pesky, the heart and soul of the Red Sox organization passed away on Monday. He was 92. While this marks a truly somber day for Red Sox nation, his life and career should and will be celebrated. Pesky played, managed, broadcasted and coached within the Red Sox for over 60 years. The guy just loved baseball. But more than that, he loved his players, his team, his ballpark, and his fans. Coaches, players and fans around baseball are sharing their stories of Johnny. I thought I’d join them and share a few of mine.
Sitting just 302 feet (so the Red Sox claim) from the plate, Pesky’s Pole was named by teammate and Sox broadcaster Mel Parnell after Pesky won a game for Parnell in 1948 with a home run down the short right field line, just around the pole. Pesky would only hit five more home runs at Fenway Park, almost all of them wrapping around that pesky little pole in right. I remember going to a game when I was 10 or 11 with my grandfather and watching batting practice from directly behind the pole. After about 20 minutes, I had two or three balls. As a 10 year old, it was awesome. Pesky’s Pole would forever be my friend.
Not too long ago, Pesky was hitting ground balls to infielders at spring training. One year I was I was down in Florida and witnessed it myself. Not bad for a guy in his 80’s I thought. As practice was coming to a close one day, Pesky walked off the field, looked in my direction, winked and smiled. At the time I thought it was a sign from the baseball Gods telling me that one day, I’ll be on that field. Turns out, it was just a wink. But with that simple, warming gesture, Johnny Pesky made me feel like a friend and a teammate.
Fans at Fenway finally had a chance to smile last night as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band put on a hell of a show. I was lucky enough to score tickets, and I’ll never forget it. First of all, how does he do it? Four hours of classic Bruce without a break. The guy is 63. Unreal. More than that, the Boss paid tribute to Johnny Pesky throughout the night with images of him on the big screens, and a constant spotlight shining on Pesky’s Pole. Class act, for a Yankee fan. Bruce summed it up perfectly during “My City of Ruins” by quieting down the crowd and saying,: “There are people who’ve given their heart, their souls, their blood, and it’s all in the dirt out there.”
Thanks for the memories, Johnny. You will be missed.