Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Boston Legend - Johnny Pesky

He was born John Michael Paveskovich on September 27, 1919 in Portland, Oregon. Ironically on the very day Babe Ruth played his last game in a Red Sox uniform. By the time he arrived in Boston in 1942 he was being called Johnny Pesky. World War II was underway and soon he and Red Sox star Ted Williams were in Navy flight training school at Pensacola, Florida. They didn't return to baseball, and Boston until 1946 the year the Red Sox played the St.Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Pesky had a "prominent" nose. Ted Williams delighted in calling him "needlenose." That name stuck and over the years its been shortened to "needles. Ted Williams loved Johnny Pesky - respected him not only as a player but as a man. Boston fans loved Pesky. The little shortstop loved the fans - shared that love with anyone who ever asked for a picture, an autograph,a smile, a story. He loved telling stories.

Pesky last visited Fenway Park in April when they celebrated Fenway Parks 100th anniversary. Every player who ever wore a Red Sox uniform was invited to attend. When Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr was brought out into the infield where in their playing days they turned so many double-plays, Fenway fans gave them a standing ovation. Tears rolled down Johnny Pesky cheeks.

My memories of the man we came to know as Johnny Pesky started in 1948 as a high school sophomore when I first worked out with the Red Sox. Taking infield practice with him on days Boston was playing at home, so Red Sox head scout Neil Mahoney could see if I might one day be good enough to play with Boston. Stopping at his home on Western Avenue in Lynn (across from the Manning Bowl) because he asked me to stop in anytime I was in his neighborhood. Having lunch with his family, wife Ruthie, son David. Swapping stories of my own seasons in the minor-leagues with the Brooklyn Dodger organization. Being at Yankee Stadium with him to watch Don Larsen pitch his perfect game against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Attending with Pesky an NBA game in the Boston Garden between the Celtics and Philadelphia 76'ers in 1976 when a Celtic player dropped a pass - hearing a loud-mouth several rows behind us shout out ,"give it to Pesky, he'll hold it!" A reference to a play in the 1946 World Series against the St.Louis Cardinals in which Enos Slaughter scored from first while Pesky was said to have hesitated before throwing home. That play made Pesky the "goat" of the series. There were certain things off-limits, even for Pesky. That play was one of them. 30 years later, and a loud-mouth fan had to let everyone know Pesky,"world series goat" was at the game. There was also another topic, or name you never mentioned in Pesky's company. You didn't mention Dan Duquette, former general manager of the Red Sox who in 1997 banished Pesky from the dugout. Pesky returned to Fenway Park only when the franchise changed ownership and Duquette was fired. Duquette couldn't have hurt Pesky more if he stabbed him in the heart with a dull butcher knife.

Johnny Pesky will always be a major part of Red Sox history. Fenway Park will always have "PESKY POLE" - Johnny Pesky will always be a Boston legend.

When John Michael Paveskovich left the Universe this morning I guarantee you the first person waiting at the Pearly gates to greet him was his friend, the "Splendid Splinter" saying, "hey needlenose," what's taken you so dam long?....................."

Larry Upton
"Upton on Sports"-

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