Mr. Red Sox (posted for Ed Cook)
I’ll confess, here in the land of Tom Brady and Patriot Nation I like Baseball more than football. As an avid baseball fan I, followed the Red Sox adventures all season and was happy as a little kid in a candy store when the Sox finished off the Dodgers on Sunday night October 28th. I have been following the team for my whole life, and this personal Red Sox memory came to me as I was preparing to write for Mel’s new site.
Johnny Pesky – Mr. Red Sox
When my then 18-year-old (now 24) daughter heard the news of Johnny Pesky’s passing, she cried. When my older daughter, now 26, heard, she hugged me tight. My then 15-year-old son was upset too. Truth be told so was I, probably more than they were. Why this reaction for a Red Sox coach. Well in part it is a Boston thing or maybe New England thing, and it is definitely a Baseball thing. But this man touched three generations of my family. It’s a personal thing.
I was born in 1958, and I grew up in a household that loved baseball and the Red Sox in particular. At the time in the early 1960s, the Red Sox were in the conversation with the Mets and Washington Senators as the worst team in baseball. But it was like Brooklyn fans always loved the Dodgers even when they were ‘dem Bums!’
Johnny Pesky played for the Red Sox from 1942 to 1952 then was traded and ended up his career as a migrant with the Detroit Tigers and Washington Senators. He was the first player in MLB History to get over 200 hits in the first three years of a career and to this day he is one of just two players that have accomplished this (Ichro Suzuki is the other). However, those three years (1942, 1946 and 1947) were separated by three years in the US Navy during World War II which, like so many of his fellow players, took away the prime of their career.
Johnny married his wife Ruth in 1945 and settled on Boston’s North Shore. After his playing career was over, he managed minor league teams first in the NY Yankee organization, then in the Red Sox minor leagues. It was during this time, in the late 1950s that my father was introduced by a friend to Mr. Pesky who worked nearby. This was in the days before ballplayers made the equivalent of a small country’s GDP and Johnny had to get a job in the off-season to make ends meet. My father was a luke-warm baseball fan, but he knew a good guy when he saw one, and Johnny Pesky was a good guy. My Father and Johnny remained friends for many years, and Johnny used to drop in to my father’s office from time to time and surprise him and his fellow workers on his way to a game. He usually brought tickets. Good tickets.
After doing a good job managing in the Red Sox Minor League system, in 1963 Johnny was promoted to Red Sox Manager. My Dad, my mother and my grandfather, who had played minor league ball around the turn of the 19th century, were very excited. Unfortunately, Johnny was too nice a guy, and was regularly undercut by General Manager Pinky Higgins who was Racist team-owner Tom Yawkey’s drinking buddy, and had previously been the manager. After that, Johnny went to the Pittsburgh Pirate organization, then back to Boston to be a broadcaster from 1969 to 1973. He then coached in the minors for the Red Sox and for the big club from 1974 until 2007. He was in Baseball for 66 years, 56 with the Red Sox. He was in full uniform and on the bench every home game as an instructor doing infield practice until the Baltimore Orioles complained that he was on the bench. Really…and it was hurting them how??
In 2004 Johnny’s biography, Mr. Red Sox, by Bill Nowlin, was published. I asked for it for Father’s Day and was done in about a week. Loved it. Later that summer I heard Johnny was going to be at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, RI, home of the Red Sox AAA minor league team, the Paw Sox, for a book signing and I brought my three children to see him. We happened to be the very last people in line. When we got to him, he could not have been more wonderful. There had been 100’s of people, and we were the last ones between him and heading home. He engaged my kids. He said ‘Hello Beautiful’ and ‘Hello Gorgeous’ to my two girls who were 12 and ten at the time. They BEAMED!!! They thought “A Red Sox called me…” (I don’t remember which was which). Then he turned to my 8-year-old son and said “hi-a handsome.” He then autographed the book, “To Meredith, Patrick + Audrey & Big Ed, My Best, Johnny Pesky.” The kids floated away with the book.
I shook hands with the author who was there, and then turned to Johnny and thanked him and said ‘you knew my dad.’ He said, “really, what’s his name?” “Mal Cook,” I replied. “Oh gee, Mal is a great guy,” I told him my father had passed away some time before and he gave his condolences. He said they lost track of each other about 1980 when my father had to retire. Here is a very public guy in New England, remembering that he had last heard from my dad 25 or so years before. That’s pretty amazing I said to myself. Then as he shakes my hand one more time, he says “you were a lucky guy to have him for a father, he really thought you were something.” Ohhhh-myyyy-Goshhhhh. I have gotten teary every time I have thought of that since. My kids did not even notice I was speaking to him and in less than a minute he gave me one of the great moments of my life.
The final Johnny Pesky connection was when I was born my dad asked Johnny to autograph a ball to me, his new-born son. The story my father told me goes that Johnny said: “you don’t want my autograph, I’ll get you a real autograph.” The Ball reads “To Eddie, Best Wishes Ted Williams 1958”, and yes, I still have the ball. Thank you Johnny, you will be missed by my entire family. It’s a New England thing, but to me it’s personal.