Williams dubbed Mr. Pesky “Needlenose” or “Needle” for his most prominent facial feature. He put his nose to good use on the field, flicking it as a hit-and-run sign to DiMaggio. “Even a guy with thick glasses like DiMaggio couldn’t miss that sign,” Mr. Pesky joked. The nickname stuck, but its bearer didn’t mind. “They could have called me whatever they wanted,” he liked to say. “It was just wonderful being in the majors.”
Few players have had a more fitting name. Mr. Pesky really was a “Johnny Pesky”: quick and wiry, compact and boyish. Yet it wasn’t his given name. That was John Michael Paveskovich. Born on Sept. 27, 1919, in Portland, he was the son of Croatian immigrants, Jacob Paveskovich, a lumber mill worker, and Mary (Bajama) Paveskovich.
“ ‘Pesky’ was the nickname the kids came up with for me,” he later explained. “It was kind of catchy.” The name later appeared in box scores as an abbreviation. Mr. Pesky made it his legal name in 1947. “My mother was pretty mad,” he admitted.
Mr. Pesky worked as an assistant clubhouse boy for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. “The best job in town,” he later recalled. “The ballplayers were my heroes, and I was around them all the time. I saw the games for nothing — I used to help out as bat boy, too — and in the mornings, or after my work was done, I could get out on the field and play.”
Several major league teams were interested in Mr. Pesky. He signed with the Red Sox for $500. Their scout, he later explained, “was the one who was nicest to my family... He used to bring my mother flowers and my father bourbon.”
During World War II, Mr. Pesky served in the Navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant j.g.
In June 1952, the Red Sox traded him to the Detroit Tigers. Mr. Pesky spent his last season, 1954, with the Tigers and Washington Senators.
Mr. Pesky managed in the Tigers’ minor league system for five years, then returned to the Red Sox organization to manage their Seattle farm team.
He managed the Red Sox in 1963 and ’64, finishing seventh and eighth in a ten-team league. “Let’s just say I became manager of the Red Sox at the wrong time,” Mr. Pesky once said. The organization was in the depths of its lackadaisical “country club” phase. A combination of little talent on the field and much dissension in the clubhouse (Mr. Pesky had notable run-ins with first baseman Dick Stuart) sealed his fate.
Mr. Pesky had a managerial record of .451 (which includes five games at the end of the 1980 season). Asked once how it felt to win as a manager, he replied, “The sky is a little bluer, the beer tastes a little better, and my wife looks like Gina Lollobrigida.” Asked whom his wife resembled during a losing streak, Mr. Pesky said, “Bela Lugosi.”
Mr. Pesky coached for the Pittsburgh Pirates for several years and managed in their minor league organization. He returned to the Red Sox as a broadcaster in 1969, replacing Parnell. Mr. Pesky brought great partisanship to the broadcast booth — he could occasionally be heard in the background cheering quietly for the Red Sox while his partners Ken Coleman and Ned Martin handled play-by-play chores.
The Red Sox named Mr. Pesky first-base coach in 1975. He became special assistant to the general manager in 1985 and later special assignment instructor.
In 1982, Mr. Pesky lost 40 pounds, his life threatened by a mysterious ailment. It was finally diagnosed as a late-developing allergy to gluten.
There was a media flare-up in 1997 when general manager Dan Duquette decreed that Mr. Pesky couldn’t suit up and sit in the Red Sox dugout during home games. The ensuing outcry was further proof of the special place Mr. Pesky had in the hearts of Red Sox fans. In 2004, the team named one of the fields at its spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., for Mr. Pesky. “You had a pole all this time,” Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra teased Mr. Pesky. “Now you have a whole field.”
“I wasn’t a great player,” Mr. Pesky once said. “I was a decent player. I knew the game, I’d like to think. I know I had a lot of fun.”
Mr. Pesky’s wife, Ruth (Hickey) Pesky, died in 2005. He leaves a son, David.