So Long Johnny! - By Mike Lynch
Throughout Red Sox Nation Johnny Pesky was more popular than Santa Claus. I've stood in lines at the mall for Santa as a kid and a parent and the lines to meet and greet Johnny Pesky were longer - sorry Santa!
Unlike Santa, Johnny delivered gifts 365 days a year and I bet there are a few of you reading this who have met Johnny, have his autograph or posed with a picture of the Red Sox legend. Johnny had time for anyone and everyone. He never refused to sign an autograph. He was approachable and likeable - those were the gifts Johnny dispensed right up until his last breath on August 13.
I first met Johnny as a youngster playing Little League. Johnny was the manager of Red Sox and he would show unannounced at games. He moved to Swampscott in the mid 1960's and the town was abuzz. There couldn't have been more excitement if the Beatles moved into town. He would stop by the high school field and give a quick clinic to the squad. He was a regular at 4:00 p.m. mass at St. John's Church. He got his haircut every other Tuesday at Rosa Brothers and could be seen regularly pushing a shopping cart at Star Market alongside his wife Ruthie.
For all his congeniality and popularity in his later years as the face of the Red Sox, there are generations that never saw Johnny play or know little or nothing about his career. In a nutshell, he could play. Rookie year he hit .331 and led the majors with 205 hits while finishing third in the MVP voting. The next three seasons he spent in the Navy during World War II. After missing that time he returned to hit .335 and again led the majors with 208 hits. The beat continued in 1947 with another major league best 207 hits and an average of .324. In each of those seasons he had a better batting average and more hits than Joe DiMaggio.
Opposing pitchers rarely whiffed Johnny - 712 plate appearances in 1949 with a staggering 19 K's. Same deal in 1951, just 15 strikeouts. If Johnny was playing in this era he'd be a mult-millionaire and a perennial all star. But Johnny never measured success by the size of one's bank account.
In baseball there are great players who are lousy people and there are lousy players who are great people. Johnny was the best of both and that is why his #6 is retired and why there is a statue of him outside Fenway. No person wore the Red Sox uniform with more class and dignity than Johnny Pesky. So hold onto that autograph, cherish that photo and tell your grandchildren that you met a Hall of Fame person in one Johnny Pesky.