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Red Sox icon Johnny Pesky passes away at 92

08.13.12 at 7:50 pm ET
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At the age of 20, Johnny Pesky recalled a few years ago, he had a choice. The Portland, Ore., native could have chosen to sign with the Cardinals, Yankees or Indians (indeed, Pesky recalled that the Cleveland GM actually paid a visit to his house). But the choice was not Pesky’s to make.

“My mother picked the Red Sox for me when I was a young kid,” Pesky recalled in 2008, on the day that the Red Sox announced that his No. 6 would be retired, joining those of his beloved teammates Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr on the facade of the right field roof at Fenway Park. “My mother liked the guy from Boston because he brought us beautiful flowers. He brought my father a good bottle of bourbon. I guess that made the deal. So we joined the Red Sox and everything has been fine.

“I’m very proud to have been a Red Sox all these years,” he added. “I’m going to die a Red Sox. I hope that’s not next week. This has been great.”

On Monday, the man who spent 61 of his 92 years in the employ of the Red Sox passed away. He was surrounded by family and friends at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, Mass. He was connected to the organization in innumerable ways thanks to a playing career that included a pair of top-five finishes in AL MVP balloting as well as time as a coach, manager, broadcaster, instructor and ambassador. His decades-long presence in the Red Sox clubhouse connected different generations of Red Sox players, linking the championship teams of 2004 and 2007 with the great players such as Williams who never saw a title.

Indeed, after the team won the 2004 World Series, nearly every Red Sox player sought out Pesky in the clubhouse celebration. For his part, Pesky announced proudly that he had prayed every night for decades for a Red Sox championship. On the night of Oct. 27, 2004, when that hope became a reality, Pesky pronounced himself eager to reclaim the feeling.

“This is the greatest thing that could have ever happened to the Boston Red Sox and their fans,’€ declared Pesky. ‘€œI’€™m going to see a couple more. I’€™m not going to spit the bit yet.’€

He did end up seeing another championship, bearing witness to the team’s triumph in 2007.

“I wear this ring very proudly,” Pesky said at the 2008 press conference, at which he wore the 2007 ring. “My son wears the ’04 one. I wanted to win this one. I said, ‘Win this one and I can stop.’ ”

Ultimately, while Pesky had an excellent if underrated playing career — one that was interrupted by three years in the Navy during World War II — and served several important roles with the team over the year, his presence as a transcendent historical figure in franchise history exceeded those individual roles. He helped to hoist the 2004 championship flag with Carl Yastrzemski at the team’s home opener in 2005, and he and Bobby Doerr were the last players introduced at the Fenway Park centennial this year.

“Johnny was one of the wonderful links to 70 years of Red Sox history,” Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said in a team-issued statement. “He was the grandfather of the Red Sox. He was as loving and kind a gentleman as one could imagine. His stories were delightful, and his love of Ted Williams and his teammates shone through in virtually every conversation. We know that those stories, and his spirit, will continue to live on at Fenway Park.”

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