They call me “Mr. Red Sox.” And that is a special honor considering all the great stars and personalities who have been with the franchise through all the years.
It’s been a wonderful ride for the kid out of Portland, Oregon who signed for a five hundred dollar bonus. I first showed up at Fenway Park in 1942 and never believed that when 2010 rolled around, I would still be on the scene, still be coming to the ballpark, still be putting on the Red Sox uniform, still having my own locker in the clubhouse.
The organization has honored me by naming the right field foul pole after me, putting me in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, retiring my number.
As author Harvey Frommer, in this book, brings the great story of Fenway Park to all of us in tremendous detail, I think back to all the greats I have known, those I played with or saw play at Fenway Park, a kind of who’s who in Sox history - - Mr. Tom Yawkey, Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Tex Hughson, Mel Parnell, Boo Ferriss, Dick Radatz , Reggie Smith, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Tony Conigliaro, Jimmy Rice, Jim Lonborg, Carl Yastrzemski, Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans, Dennis Eckersley, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia, Curt Schilling, Jacoby Ellsbury . . .
I think back to so many moments at Fenway, good and bad – our winning the 1946 pennant, Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at bat, the Impossible Dream season, the Carlton Fisk home run, that 1975 team that battled the Reds in the World Series, the Bucky Dent homer, the heartbreak loss of the 1986 World Series to the Mets, the great changes in the old ballpark and the exciting work done by the new ownership, the thrill of “breaking the Curse of the Bambino” and winning world championships in 2004, 2007.
I have played for, coached, managed the Sox. I have been in the front office, a television and radio announcer, even an ad salesman. I have probably seen more Red Sox games, hit more fungoes, put in more time at Fenway Park than anyone else in Red Sox history.
As I said, it has been some ride. Seven decades-worth and counting, and I have enjoyed every moment of it. Many of these moments are captured in this book through Harvey Frommer’s riveting narrative, through great photos, and most importantly though the words of those who lived it.
And as a voice in my book and a person to interview, Pesky was honest, on target, full of BoSox pride, not full of himself. Just a few of his comments from Remembering Fenway Park follow:
JOHNNY PESKY: Manager Joe Cronin let me play. That was how it all started in 1942 when we went up against the old Boston Braves, an exhibition City Series, one game at Fenway and one at Braves Field.
I made four errors in the exhibition game and felt just terrible about it. I thought Cronin was going to send me down to either Scranton or Louisville. But he didn't say anything to me.
The first time I saw Fenway Park, it was dark and dreary. I was mainly concerned about playing as well as I could and keeping warm.
Opening Day was Tuesday April 14th . I was 22 years old. I came up the runway, up the three steps and looked out from the dugout. It was an old park even then. But it was very well kept, clean and nice. And right in the middle of the city. I thought it was beautiful.
We lived on Bay State road just across from Kenmore Square and could walk across to the ballpark. I batted leadoff ahead of Dom and Ted.
JOHNNY PESKY: Ted and I lockered next to one another. We always talked baseball. When you’re talking to the greatest hitter, it was like talking to the Holy Father.
He said: “Johnny, you’ve got to hit strikes. Don’t’ be afraid to take a pitch. And you’ve got to keep that bat on the level.” He’d stand up and show me his approach to hitting. And it stayed with me.
JOHNNY PESKY: Coming back from the Navy in 1946, I was impressed with how beautiful the ballpark still was. Mr. Yawkey came down and talked to us. He said he felt good about the team. He loved Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr. He was very nice to me, too.
Fenway Park was my comfort zone. Very homey. Fans were close, liking their ball. After the war, we had great crowds. The club now got going pretty good. There was much interest in Red Sox baseball and being in Fenway Park.
JOHNNY PESKY: A big left handed pitcher was going against us. Piersall was going up for his first at bat. “Goddamn this guy’s awful wild, God damn it, I’m afraid,” Jimmy said.
“If you’re afraid,” I told him, “you better get a lunch pail and go home.”
JOHNNY PESKY: I think Yaz was as good as any outfielder that ever played there, and I’m not taking anything away from Ted. Yaz was like an infielder from the outfield. He threw well; they couldn’t run on him. And he knew how to play that Monster.
The bio featured in Remembering Fenway Park reads:
JOHNNY PESKY is MR. RED SOX. A member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame whose number has been retired by the team, he has been a player, manager, coach and goodwill ambassador for the Red Sox since the 1940s.
That bio tells just half the story. He was also beloved, respected, and honored - -all for the right reasons.