Former Red Sock Johnny Pesky died five years ago on August 13, 2012. He was a franchise legend, beloved coach, commentator, and the de facto grandfather of Red Sox Nation. Now, there are some things that make me very upset: Aaron Boone’s walk-off, David Ortiz retiring, Donald Trump, the way they ended the last Harry Potter movie. But if you want to get me really piping mad, talk to me about Johnny Pesky passing away.
With the 2013 trophy shining so brightly in its case, it’s easy to forget what a complete crap-fest 2012 was. So let me remind you: Bobby Valentine was maybe the worst manager in franchise history, and the Red Sox finished dead last. They were also a clubhouse with a bad attitude, and no one was really rooting for them, a bad sign in a city that takes its sports very seriously. It was also Fenway’s 100th birthday, so of course, in typical Red Sox fashion, we had to ruin that by being the worst. And then, to make everything a million times worse, Johnny Pesky passed away, and only four Red Sox players attended his funeral.
Now, some of you more educated folks might say, “the Red Sox didn’t make attendance mandatory,” or “the Red Sox had a tribute planned for him the following game,” I don’t care. First of all, they didn’t have a game the next day, so the excuse that they’d returned after midnight from New York doesn’t really hold water. Second, they all found the time to go to Josh Beckett’s charity bowling event that night, so I guess drinking and playing games wasn’t too high-energy for this team of shmucks. And to those who talk about the pre-game tribute, the team already had to be there, because they were PLAYING A GAME. It doesn’t count as showing up for Pesky if you were already going to be there to suck at baseball anyway.
Johnny Pesky was a WWII veteran, former two-time Red Sox manager, and beloved Boston icon. He loved this team and city so much that in 1968, when his old friend and newly-named Senators coach Ted Williams asked him to join him as bench coach, Pesky turned him down to do color commentating for the Sox. Johnny Pesky played for and worked in the Red Sox organization for 61 of his 73 years in baseball, until the day he died, and he deserved better than just four Red Sox players showing up. Nomar Garciaparra hadn’t been on the team since he got shafted in 2004, and he flew in from Cooperstown for the wake, for heaven’s sakes.
And don’t forget how Johnny Pesky was treated in Boston. Red Sox fans and media are the devil, myself included. We are harsh critics who scapegoat, vilify, and destroy players who don’t have either the skill to play under immense pressure or the iron cajones to handle our taunts. And Pesky had it worse than most; after mucking up a play against St. Louis Cardinal Enos Slaughter in the 1946 World Series, he was blamed for continuing the Curse of the Bambino basically until Buckner came along and did something worse in 1986. For exactly forty years, most of which Johnny Pesky spent working in the Red Sox organization, he had the guilt of his World Series mishap hanging over him. He’s our very own Moses, giving his life to the Israelites, leading them through the desert – also for forty years – but never getting to enter, only see the Promised Land.
In 2004, all was “forgiven” when the Red Sox finally won a World Series for the first time in eighty-six years. And they heralded Johnny Pesky as if he’d made that last out himself, handing him the trophy, Schilling telling him, “this is for you, Johnny,” giving him a ring. But can you really erase decades of pain and suffering just like that? Apparently, you can, because Johnny Pesky worked for, and loved the Red Sox until the day he died.
Fast-forward to 2012, and the team had fallen so far they were practically underground. Only Ortiz, Buchholz, Padilla, and Saltalamacchia got on the buses that the Red Sox organization provided to shuttle players and employees to the funeral. Papi said that he thought his fellow teammates should’ve attended but that he “personally… was close to Johnny and when it comes down to his funeral situation, there’s no reason why you don’t show up when a friend passes away.” So I say it’s really only three players who attended because Papi gets set apart. Johnny Pesky was a veteran, a Red Sox legend, and has a goddamn piece of Fenway Park NAMED AFTER HIM. He also sat on the bench for countless games in the 2000s, making it even more disrespectful that players saw him every single day and skipped out on his funeral.
It all comes down to respect. The 2012 team didn’t have any, for the game, for the franchise, for the history, or the players who took the field before them. They were overpaid, underperforming shits, and as if all that wasn’t bad enough, they disrespected one of the greatest players to ever wear the uniform, a man who gave most of his life to the team. They didn’t deserve to call themselves the Red Sox, and they didn’t deserve to be cemented in the history books alongside him. If they’d wanted to show up, they could’ve, but they didn’t, and the fact that the end of Johnny Pesky’s life will be remembered in congruence with this disaster of a roster breaks my heart. It made me sick then; it still makes me tear up thinking about Johnny Pesky being disrespected like that. And honestly, I might never get over it. Red Sox Nation deserved better. Johnny Pesky deserved better.