It seemed a throwaway moment at the time, but in afterthought, spoke so much volume about the man.
There was Johnny Pesky, mere moments after the clubhouse door opened, in deep conversation with Craig Hansen, the Monday morning of what would become the epic, four-game collapse the Red Sox suffered to the New York Yankees in August, 2006. Hansen was the losing pitcher the day before, allowing a trio of runs in the tenth inning, maybe the lowest point of a career filled with unfilled potential.
It wasn’t an uncommon display. Pesky was always there for that, the supportive, elder presence for young players that would seal his legend in Boston. Still, that instance, in recognizing that a young man needed any support he could muster, spoke of everything that Pesky was about.
He loved the Red Sox. He loved Boston. He loved his wife, Ruth, the woman he was married to for 61 years until her passing in 2005.
To say Johnny Pesky was the most important Red Sox ambassador ever seems an understatement.
Pesky passed away Monday at the vintage age of 92, one month shy of the anniversary of his 1919 birthday. He was a good, not great player, a good, not great manager. He’s certainly not a Hall of Famer.
Nor was he a saint, humankind’s own certain election of immortality. But damn it if he wasn’t one of the nicest guys with a passion for love, life, and baseball. Whether it was in that order is up for debate.
We should all be so lucky to live with the same vigor Pesky possessed until his dying day. The man possessed an indisputable aura that seeped through not only Fenway Park, but all of Boston. He was an icon, not for being a man that delivered a World Series, a batting title, or home run crown. He was treasured simply because he became one of us, someone who endeared himself to the community and history out of pure passion for life and baseball.
You can’t deny that there was any bigger Red Sox fan than Pesky. The image of Tim Wakefield handing him the World Series trophy after years of anguished heartache remains one of my favorites of all time.
Has there ever been a bigger baseball fan? I doubt it.
But even as he spent decades (minus the unfortunate Dan Duquette respite) pledging his allegiance to the Red Sox, there was his wife, proof that the man simply had an overwhelming dedication to everything. Baseball wasn’t about escaping, a matter that probably plagues more than a fair share of major leaguers who can’t wait for the next road trip. It was just another one of his overwhelming loves in life. Pesky wasn’t just a mentor to baseball players, he was an inspiration to all of us, a beacon of all that is good and should be appreciated to the fullest in our limited time here.
Craig Hansen, of course, flamed out. To the dismay of Boston, so has Johnny Pesky’s life.
He will go down as the only non-Hall of Famer to have his number retired by the Red Sox. He also goes down as the best Red Sox person ever.
What a career. What a remarkable life.
See, athletes can be idols. I highly doubt though that we’ll have another like Johnny Pesky.
Good time to re-read “The Teammates” and appreciate the rich baseball history we get to endure, no?