Johnny Pesky died today, according to Comcast New England. He was 92 years old, almost as old as Fenway Park. And nobody and no thing represented the Red Sox better than the man born John Michael Paveskovich. Thus, a significant part of the Red Sox identity is forever gone.
There is nothing that Pesky did not do with the Red Sox. "The Needle" was an MVP candidate his rookie year. He collected 200 hits three times and was an All Star who hit for a high average and played solid defense.
He was a minor league manager for the Red Sox and later managed the big league club in the 1960s. He was a broadcaster on WHDH radio and WBZ TV in Boston. Later, he was on the coaching staff for the Red Sox in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, briefly serving as interim manager in 1980.
But Pesky was more than a resume.
He was a connecting tissue. He was the living link of today's Red Sox to their sometimes glorious, but more often turbulent, past.
He was one of The Teammates than David Halberstam so beautifully wrote about. He was close to Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio. He was part of the near misses of the 1940s and the decline of the Red Sox in the 1950s.
He was a coach when Jim Rice and Fred Lynn revived the Red Sox in 1975. He was in the dugout in 1986. He was in the clubhouse in 2004 when one by one, the World Champions hugged him.
Pesky represented, in many ways, all Red Sox fans.
Remembering the past, optimistic for the future and needlessly carrying a burden. Johnny Pesky was blamed by many for not throwing home fast enough in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, allowing Enos Slaughter to score the eventual World Series winning run. Most people believe that blame was unfounded. But like the unjustified blame of Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman, postseason scapegoats can evolve in unfair ways.
When the 2004 World Series rings were distributed at the next opening day, Pesky, then a special consultant, was the last one presented. The ovation was thunderous, and the symbolism was lost on nobody. That year was not just a title won by players on the field, but it was a redemption of a franchise to an entire region.
And that redemption was personified by Johnny Pesky. The frail old man who was born months before Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, and played his guts out and was present at virtually every heartbreak the team experienced since was the physical representation of what Red Sox fans felt.
There was no more heart break, only cheering for Pesky and for us.
He won a second World Series ring, icing on the proverbial cake. And, of course, he appeared in Fenway's wonderful 100 year celebration.
His number six is retired by the Red Sox. (Ironically, number six was the same number worn by Bill Buckner in 1986. Both players have been redeemed for their needless burden and embraced by Red Sox fans). Pesky is the only honored player to not be a Hall of Famer.
But now he is gone.
And with the Red Sox franchise in flux and the need to revisit the past for sins to redeem no more, the team lost more than a special instructor. They lost a big part of what made being a Red Sox fan special.
Bobby Doerr is still alive, but he did not have the immediate day-to-day connection with the Red Sox as Pesky has for generations.
Now future generations will not understand this connection to the past that Pesky provided. He will be a nice player who oddly has been honored along side Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr and eventually Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez.
The team will rebuild and someday be a champion again. But without Mr. Pesky there to savor it, it will feel just a little bit lacking.