"No one ever loved the Red Sox more"
It's appropriate that there is no game being played today. I'm sure that Fenway would feel empty whether or not 38,000 people were inside. Today the man who many believe to be the beating heart of the Red Sox organization passed away at the age of 92. He was, by account of anyone who ever met him, a great and kind man. He spent the last 44 years working for the Red Sox as a manager and adviser, but to me, growing up as a Red Sox fan, he became our living mascot. He was the walking representation of everything that was great about the franchise I grew to love, the history, the loyalty, the long, tiring desire to win a championship.
It always seemed appropriate to me that Johnny Pesky was such an ambassador for the team. He was an underdog all his life. Always the little guy (5'9" and 160lbs soaking wet), always fighting the good fight against the Yankees or Cardinals or some other dynasty. If you have any doubts about how small he was, his nickname was "the needle". He seemed to me everything that the demanding fans of Boston want from their favorite players. He really loved the team and the area.
I remember my father pointing him out to me. "That's Johnny Pesky," he said, "He played with Ted Williams and the pole in right field -- over there -- is named after him. That's Pesky's Pole." To this day one of my favorite things about rooting for the Red Sox is telling people who aren't familiar with baseball about the history of Fenway and pointing out the pole in right field and the numbers above it. It's a testament to how much Johnny Pesky meant to the franchise that they retired his number. Among sports franchises the Red Sox might have the most strict standards for retiring numbers that I know about. In order to have his number retired a player had to: 1. Play 10 years for the Red Sox 2. Be a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and 3. Retire as a member of the Red Sox (This rule was of course removed after they retired Fisk's #27). Johnny Pesky did none of those things. Here was a man who made such a lasting impact on the franchise through his efforts as a player, scout, manager, and coach that the front office decided he was the exception that proved the rule.
Seeing him raise the 2004 banner was one of the happiest moments I've ever experienced following sports, and him getting a world championship ring? I'm not ashamed to admit that specific thought still produces a lump in my throat. He was a very old man by then. I'm sure, like many old diehards, he doubted if he'd ever see that day, but he did and it was special. I'm sure there'll be an emotional ceremony at Fenway, and the team ought to wear patches for him next year. I really hope they do. I hope the team can look at those patches when they're down and find a little more fight in themselves. I hope they win another title, and I hope someone in the locker room says, "Here's to Johnny Pesky!" before being doused in Champagne, because Lord knows the man deserved it.