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Keller @ Large: Johnny Pesky – A Great New Englander

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Johnny Pesky shakes a fan's hand during a ceremony where Pesky's No. 6 was retired at Fenway Park September 28, 2008. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Johnny Pesky shakes a fan’s hand during a ceremony where Pesky’s No. 6 was retired at Fenway Park September 28, 2008. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

WBZ-TV's Jon Keller Jon Keller
Jon Keller is WBZ-TV News' Political Analyst, and his "Keller A...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Johnny Pesky has passed away at age 92, and while we don’t use this space to eulogize every great New Englander who deserves it, this time, an exception is in order.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:


Pesky was born in 1919, in the middle of the era that produced what has come to be known as “the Greatest Generation” who survived the Great Depression, fought and won the Big One, and came home to build America into something great. As huge a role as they played in shaping a better world, they were never known for bragging about it.

So we better brag about them when we can.

According to Bill Nowlin’s excellent bio, Pesky’s Croatian-immigrant parents didn’t understand baseball, but they supported their son in his strange obsession. “It’s been my whole life,” he once told WBZ’s Dan Roche. “I eat it, drink it, sleep it, eat it, whatever.”

In his rookie year, 1942, he hit .331, trailing only Ted Williams in the American League, and led the league in sacrifices, a precursor to what came next, three years in service as a Naval aviator.

Pesky returned from the war and resumed one of the great careers of his time as a hitting machine and a superb fielder who could beat opponents with his body and his brain; he is credited with pulling off the hidden ball trick no less than three times.

Pesky’s playing career ended in 1954, but he went on to become a manager, coach, broadcaster and beloved fixture at Fenway Park. I found out why a few years ago when I was covering some non-baseball event at Fenway and saw Mr. Pesky by himself eating a soft ice-cream cone.

I asked for a brief interview. “Sure,” he said. “But let me just finish this cone. This is too good to waste.”

Never have I seen a man take more joy from a simple pleasure of life, be it baseball or a soft swirl. Rarely have I met a man who was more gracious and friendly to an obtrusive stranger.

What a gentleman.

What a life.

What a generation.

Rest in peace, Johnny Pesky. I sure hope we haven’t broken the mold you came from.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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