The Boston Red Sox and Oregon lost a baseball legend this week.

Johnny Pesky, who during a six-decade-long association with the Red Sox as player, manager, broadcaster, coach and executive became one of the most popular figures in the team’s history, died Monday. He was 92.

Pesky was, perhaps, the most loved sports figure in Boston. And he was an Oregonian.

His popularity might be measured by the Boston Globe, which devoted an entire special section to Pesky this week, plus numerous sports columns and even an editorial that said:

“The best way to understand Johnny Pesky’s importance to the Red Sox and the Boston area is to ask who is likely to replace him. How many ex-players are still in the Boston area, attending every game, mentoring every rookie, signing every autograph, appearing at every charity dinner — all while smiling through wins and losses, triumphs and tragedies?”

The answer, of course, is no one.

There are some leathery old stars who show up at spring training in between golf matches, then fly up to Fenway a few times each season to take their seats in the legends box. And it’s always good to see them.

Pesky, however, never left. The former shortstop, who died Monday, was a daily, living reminder of the Red Sox of the ’40s and the teams that came after.

He achieved fame during his time in Boston as a a key part of the killer batting lineup that included Ted Williams and Dominic DiMaggio, who became his life-long friends. He hit between the two famous stars.

The Globe reported that Pesky was a lifetime .307 hitter, who recorded 200 or more hits in each of his first three seasons, leading the American League in that category all three years. He hit .331 in 1942, his rookie season, finishing second to Ted Williams in the batting title race and was third in most valuable player voting. An All-Star in 1946, he was a fine fielding shortstop, his primary position. He also played third base and second base.

In 2008, he was the first player who was not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to have his number — 6 — retired by the Red Sox.

Pesky started out as an assistant clubhouse boy for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League.

“The best job in town,” he later recalled. “The ballplayers were my heroes, and I was around them all the time. I saw the games for nothing — I used to help out as bat boy, too — and in the mornings, or after my work was done, I could get out on the field and play.”

According to the Globe, several major league teams were interested in Mr. Pesky. He signed with the Red Sox for $500. Their scout, he later explained, “was the one who was nicest to my family. ... He used to bring my mother flowers and my father bourbon.”

The tribute stories continue:

“Few players have had a more fitting name. Pesky really was a ‘Johnny Pesky’: quick and wiry, compact and boyish. Yet it wasn’t his given name. That was John Michael Paveskovich. Born on Sept. 27, 1919, in Portland, he was the son of Croatian immigrants, Jacob Paveskovich, a lumber mill worker, and Mary (Bajama) Paveskovich.

“?‘Pesky’ was the nickname the kids came up with for me,’ he later explained. ‘It was kind of catchy.’

The name later appeared in box scores as an abbreviation. He made it his legal name in 1947.

“‘My mother was pretty mad,’ he admitted.”

During World War II, Pesky served in the Navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant, junior grade.

He lost three seasons at his playing peak to wartime service. That is what players did during the war. Ted Williams signed up, too.

Pesky was also one of those players who fans forgave in 1946 when, as the story goes, he was slow in throwing home on a relay from the outfield that could potentially have stopped the St. Louis Cardinals from breaking a 3-3 tie and winning the World Series.

Most baseball fans know that the Red Sox would wait many more decades before they finally broke the “curse of the Bambino” going back to when early owners traded Babe Ruth and doomed the Boston team to nearly a century of not winning baseball’s prized championship.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Pesky had joined the list of famous Series goats that includes Fred Snodgrass and Mickey Owen (and later the Red Sox’ Bill Buckner).

He went home to Portland after the Series and stayed in his house for five weeks before finally coming out. With characteristic good cheer, he soon adjusted to his newfound ignominy.

“If you’re a Palooka, you’ve got to live with it,” he said in a 1979 Globe interview.

The point of bringing up the Boston Globe story about this remarkable Oregonian is that Pesky proves fans, and people, can forgive a mistake if one has the determination and grace of a man like Pesky.

He became so loved by fans that there was a major flare-up in 1997 when then general manager Dan Duquette tried to kick him out of the dugout where he had traditionally hung out after his retirement.

The fans would have nothing of this. There was already a famous pole in Fenway Park’s right field that had been named for him. It is one where even small, less powerful hitters can hit a home run by slicing the ball around the pole.

“I wasn’t a great player,” Pesky once said. “I was a decent player. I knew the game, I’d like to think. I know I had a lot of fun.”

We all had fun because of him.

Oregon baseball fans, and even those who are not, should take a moment this week to remember the great Johnny Pesky. We can be proud that we gave Boston and all of baseball a man to admire.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.