Mrs. Ramfanatic and I have enjoyed watching Johnny Pesky play such a prominent for the Red Sox in the World Series. She knew him well when he managed the Durham Bulls in the early sixties and I was fortunate to have breakfast with the two of them around 1989. It was a thrill I will never forget because I have been such a long suffering Red Sox fan. I used to love them almost as much as I did the Heels, but the agony of defeat became too much to bear. I didn't abandon them, I just went into a passive mode of support.
Probably the most painful episode as a Red Sox fan came in '86, I believe it was. My staff, at the time, knew of my love for the Red Sox and secretly purchased a beautiful Red Sox Sweat shirt which they were going to give to me on the morning after the Red Sox won the World Series with the Mets.
Of course, the Red Sox didn't win the World Series with the Mets, but my staff decided they wanted to give me the sweat shirt anyhow. They sheepishly came into my office with it wrapped beautifully and I didn't have a clue as to what was happening. They told me they had talked about it, and decided they wanted to give it to me anyhow. I guess there wasn't much of a market for Red Sox wear the morning after they lost the 7th game so they probably figured they might as well proceed rather than trying to return it to the store where they had bought it. I imagine there might have been quite a few people who either tried to return Red Sox gear or wanted to return items associated with the Red Sox after the collapse that year. I still have the shirt and I have never worn it. The Series may be over by the time this article appears, and, if the Red Sox have won it all, that shirt will be worn. I'm also trying to figure out how to get both the UNC and Red Sox emblems on one of my many baseball caps. What a combination.
Back to Pesky. A lot of people don't know that he is a UNC alum of sorts. He was in the Carolina Pre-Flight Training School during World War 11 along with the original George Bush, Gerald Ford, and, of course, Ted Williams. He didn't complete advanced pilot training, but he spoke of Chapel Hill with fondness during our meeting in '89. He said Ted Williams told him that he was a good ball player but the worst pilot he had ever seen. The two were close up until Williams' death a couple of years ago and Pesky and Dom Dimaggio were featured in David Halberstam's book "Teammates", a chronicle of the duo's journey to Florida to see Ted Williams for the last time. This was also produced in a documentary film which has appeared on ESPN Classic a couple of times.
Pesky has taken a bum rap for the play in the '46 World Series where he supposedly held the ball momentarily and allowed native North Carolinian Enos Slaughter (Roxboro) to score from first on a single. Scholars have studied the film religiously and the consensus is that Pesky did not hesitate on his throw. The throw from Leon Culberson, who had replaced the injured Dom Dimaggio in center field, did not have a strong arm and the throw in from Harry Walker's single left something to be desired. Many feel the hit by Walker should have been scored a double because the fact that Slaughter scored from first on a single just added to the embarrassment for Pesky.
Pesky was and still is "old school". He knew somebody had to be the scapegoat for the loss and he accepted it without ever trying to shift the blame to someone else. Culberson has been dead for several years, so the players now feel free to give their version of what happened on that fall day in 1946. Seems such a miscarriage of justice for everyone to keep silent for so many years when they knew how Pesky had to be suffering. But Pesky never tried to deflect the blame and somehow, I think the Red Sox fans know that and love him for it. It's sad that one play can mar an entire career, but that's the way we human beings are constructed. I hate to admit that I kept thinking about the play as I was enjoying Pesky's company during our meeting, but I never brought it up. It would have been unforgivable if I had.
A quick Pesky story from his days in Durham by way of Mrs. Ramfanatic. His small son got mad at John one day and called him "a needle nosed son of a bitch."
It wasn't bad enough that the son was disrespectful to his dad. A much larger question had been raised. Where would a 5 year old get the particular name he was calling his father? There was no doubt in anyone's mind but that he had overheard the players on the Bull's team refer to the elder Pesky by that name. I have always been afraid to ask Mrs. R for the ending to that story.
A few words about Ted Williams. My two biggest sports heroes of all time have been Charlie Justice and Ted Williams. Michael Jordan might be close, but he wasn't with me as I grew up and so he has to be in a separate category. The way William's body has been handled since his death is enough for me to lose faith in humanity. I always thought that the human body was sacred and it never entered my mind that a dead body would be considered as property. I'm afraid that's exactly what happened with William's body as a battle took place between his son and daughter as to what would be done with it after his death. There was a court battle for a while but finally the daughter, who had been trying to give him a normal burial, gave in and his body was sent to one of those places that I can't even pronounce for freezing and God only know what else. His head is frozen for whatever his son and others have in mind, and I haven't the slightest idea where his body is. I can get emotional about this, but it won't change anything. I don't know anything about his son, but he must have been unique to say the least. I'm told the Red Sox organization told him he was not welcome in Fenway Park unless he was with his father. I have not been able to confirm this, but I have been told the son passed away recently. A shame he couldn't have passed on before the disgraceful situation occurred with his father's body.
That 's about it for Pesky and the Red Sox. For years, Pesky hit balls to the Red Sox before games in Fenway Park It was an institution, but for some reason, the previous owners of the Red Sox discontinued the practice. One of the first thing the new owners did when they took control of the team was to have Pesky return to his former role as "warm up coach". It's not every one who has a foul pole named after them as the right field foul pole has been named the Pesky Pole. It is reported that Pesky has said that when he dies, he hopes he is on the field at Fenway Park. No wonder Boston fans love him so. Maybe someday, the fans will react to Bill Buckner the same way. He was invited to throw out the first ball at Fenway but declined. I don't know that I blame him. He should not be blamed for the loss to the Mets any more than Pesky should be blamed for the loss to the Cardinals, but that's another story for another time.