Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Steve Solloway firstname.lastname@example.org
Shouts and growing applause echoed through the corridor leading away from the Red Sox clubhouse that October night in 2004. Johnny Pesky, his shock of white hair wet with champagne, was leaving Busch Stadium.
David Ortiz, left, was just part of the many generations of players who passed through the Boston Red Sox and realized the impact Johnny Pesky had on the organization.
The Associated Press
The Red Sox had won the World Series maybe an hour earlier. If you wanted a picture of happiness, here it was. Pesky was in his own heaven.
He acknowledged the tribute from members of the Red Sox family and media with a wave. His grin got wider, if that was possible.
He was 84 that year, the talented ballplayer, manager and coach who connected generations of Red Sox fans.
Now he's gone. Pesky died Monday. Will there be another like him? I spent Tuesday afternoon asking until Charlie Eshbach, the Portland Sea Dogs' president, gave me an answer that made sense.
"The guy who's going to be the next Johnny Pesky hasn't been identified yet," said Eshbach. "You need to have a guy who bridges generations and they're as rare as a 50-home run hitter. Everyone would love to have one."
The St. Louis Cardinals have Stan Musial. The Yankees have Yogi Berra and down the road, maybe Derek Jeter. Mike Schmidt might be that guy for the Phillies. The Kansas City Royals have George Brett. Minnesota had Kirby Puckett until he died in 2006 from a stroke at age 46.
But do the Red Sox and their fans even need another Johnny Pesky? Maybe now more than ever after Yahoo! Sports reported Tuesday that some Red Sox players said they could no longer play for Manager Bobby Valentine. You didn't like this team after last September's collapse and the beer drinking and fried chicken eating in the clubhouse during games. How do you like your Red Sox now?
Pesky was from another era, of course. "I'm a baseball man and it's all I'll ever be," he said in David Halberstam's book "The Teammates." Pesky never really had a job away from the Red Sox and baseball. That's one reason he so effortlessly fit the role of goodwill ambassador. That and the fact he was so approachable.
Which, of course, would rule out Carl Yastrzemski, perhaps the greatest living Red Sox player. Yaz is baseball royalty and a very private man.
Several people mentioned Bill Lee to me. I love Lee because he's an iconoclast, which is why Red Sox ownership would never ask him back. Rico Petrocelli, the shortstop from the fabled 1967 team, got some votes, but he hasn't been very visible. His teammate, Mike Andrews, has tirelessly worked for the Jimmy Fund charity but I wish he had more success as a ballplayer. Pesky was a lifetime .307 hitter. The Red Sox retired his No. 6.
Luis Tiant's name came up. He's beloved and always around Fenway Park. Maybe hundreds of young pitchers in the 1970s in New England tried his unique windup. Dwight Evans would be good but how many Dewey sightings have there been at Fenway or spring training? Ditto Carlton Fisk. Jim Rice is around and in baseball's Hall of Fame but still hasn't shed completely his image as a surly ballplayer. An image, by the way, that wasn't wholly deserved.
I've always been a fan of Mo Vaughn, who was larger than life but accessible. A clubhouse leader or clubhouse lawyer depending on your perspective. You'd have to overlook his fondness for a certain strip club.
My 21-year-old, who does have an appreciation for Red Sox history and knows Pesky's place in it, votes for Nomar Garciaparra. The wounds are healing since Nomar left the Red Sox in 2004, but not quite closed. He isn't around Fenway much, either.
Kevin Millar? My favorite for the role of clown prince. His contributions to 2004 and the World Series on and off the field are immense, even if his time in a Red Sox uniform was too brief.
Johnny Pesky wasn't a life-long Red Sox player as some remember. He was traded to Detroit and finished his playing career with the Washington Senators. But for more than 60 of his 70 years in professional baseball he was part of the Red Sox.
It's doubtful we'll see that again.
"One of the beauties of baseball is it's timeless," said Eshbach. "You go to Fenway Park and know that Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth once played there." Add Ted Williams and his teammate, Johnny Pesky.
Will someone fill Pesky's role? In time, probably. Remember that Pesky didn't audition or apply for the role. He lived it long enough to make it his.
Sports Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: email@example.com