It’s been a terrible year for the Red Sox.
A house-cleaning after last September’s epic collapse cleaned out the wrong people, leaving beer-and-chicken malcontents Josh Beckett and Jon Lester to drag down the starting rotation.
Injuries hobbled the outfield and the pitching staff. As soon as Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford returned to the lineup, David Ortiz came up lame. Outfielder Ryan Sweeney went out for the season after losing a fistfight with a wall.
Management sent an unhappy Kevin Youkilis to Chicago – where he went on a tear – because sparkling rookie Will Middlebrooks was ready for primetime. When a fastball broke Middlebrooks’ wrist last week, ending his season, it was proof that this team isn’t just mediocre, it’s snakebit.
At no point has either the team or its fans seemed united on anything this season, especially on the subject of the new manager, Bobby Valentine.
But now they are united in grief: Johnny Pesky, the man who has been the heart and soul of the Red Sox for 70 years, is dead.
Pesky came to the Sox as a sharp young infielder in 1942 and, save for three years serving his country in World War II, he never left. His friendship with teammates Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio – their one trip to the World Series, in 1946, ended in heartbreak – is memorialized in a statue outside Fenway Park.
Pesky stopped playing, but he never left Fenway. He served as manager, coach and broadcaster. For decades, he was a fixture at spring training and in the home team dugout. He was a source of tips, insights and stories of the good old days for generations of players and fans.
He shared his all his team’s ups and downs. Who can forget the old man’s tears shed without shame when the Sox finally claimed the championship in 2004?
Pesky, 92, lived long enough to put on the Red Sox home whites one last time for the 100th birthday of Fenway Park. His life reminds us that the Red Sox is more than a transient collection of millionaire ballplayers, more than a business and more than a box score or a spot in the standings.
The Red Sox, to a true fan like Johnny Pesky, is a second family. You have no choice but to accept its lesser lights as well as its superstars, its defeats as well as its victories. In this dispiriting season, the best thing the Sox and their fans can do is celebrate the life and spirit of Johnny Pesky.
-- MetroWest Daily News (Mass.)