I had the pleasure of meeting Johnny Pesky twice. In 2008, I spent 20 minutes speaking with him. He told me that Jonathan Papelbon could be as good as Roger Clemens. He said that David Ortiz was all good, a man of love. He said Ted Williams was his friend but he was disappointed in The Splinter as a husband and family man.
Johnny would have talked with me all day as we sat in the Absolut Room at Fenway Park after a Fenway Writers event. Pesky’s handler inserted himself into the conversation to cut us off, unaware that I wanted nothing more than to absorb whatever Pesky felt like putting out there.
On the occasion of his passing, millions of New Englanders are thinking of Johnny. His kindness, devotion, patience and lack of self-preoccupation stand out among the revelries.
Surely, he was a man of great accomplishments on the field. Playing in the shadow of Ted, he batted .330 in his first 3 years in the majors while leading the AL in Hits all 3 years. Two of those years he led the MLB.
Johnny was also a lucky man. Lucky in love. The object of his affection was Ruth (Hickey) Pesky, from Lynn, Mass.. He met Ruthie in Atlanta during the War. They were both in the Navy at the time, one of her jobs being to start airplane engines.
Johnny and Ruth were married for 60 years. When referring to her in recent years, he was known to say that in Ruthie he had “gotten a Queen.” He just could not believe how good and loving a person she was.
Pesky’s relationship with Ruth distinguishes him among athletes. To accomplish great things between the lines at the highest level and create a loving legacy is so much better than to attach athleticism to a string of broken marriages and relationships.
O.J. Simpson is at one end of the spectrum. Johnny Pesky is at the other.
Pesky has company. Elden Auker, the Tiger pitcher who won 130 games in 10 seasons but at age 31 chose running a business over baseball, was married to one Mildred Purcell for 73 years. During his career, she took care of him. In the years before he passed, and as she grew feeble, he took care of her. Auker told his grandson, “Never go to bed without telling your wife you love her.”, and, “A man has never been shot while doing the dishes, so always do the dishes.”
Also in the Lucky at Love Club are Stan and Lil Musial. The Man with the .331 career BA, 3 MVP awards, 3,630 hits and 20 All Star appearances said that it was a matter of fate that they were to spend their lives together. Simple as that. They were high school sweethearts. They performed decades of public service work in St. Louis. They were married 73 years until Lil passed on May 3 of this year.
Then there is John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA Championships at UCLA and was married to wife Nellie for 52 years. He said she was the only girl he ever kissed. After passing, he wrote her a daily letter and slipped it under her pillow at night. He dedicated his book They call me Coach to her with these words:
“Her love, faith, and loyalty through all our years together are primarily responsible for what I am.”
What could be rarer today than an unselfish superstar in Sport ?
What could be more special than a life enhanced by a long lasting loving relationship ?
It’s no coincidence that nice guys like Stan, John, Elden and Johnnie ended up with great gals.
Now, three of these star couples have been reunited in Heaven. Another blessing.