Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Johnny Pesky

If a player at Fenway Park hits a homer that barely makes it out near the right field foul line, an announcer--almost invariably--will say that the ball was hit around the Pesky pole.

It was before my time, but Johnny Pesky--a former Red Sox player--was well known for curling homers around that pole and touching them all--an expression for the uninitiated that means circling the bases after hitting a home run. So now the right field pole at Fenway Park is called the Pesky pole.

Yesterday, Johnny Pesky passed away at the age of 92.  It is an indication of how pervasive sport is to our society that even in a big city like Boston, the number one news story on the all-news-all-the-time radio station here, has been about the death of Johnny Pesky.  The Republicans have announced Mitt Romney's running mate, there have been a series of murders in the city, the economy, local, national, and international is in a precarious state, but the number one story for at least several hours this morning was about the death of Johnny Pesky.

In today's Boston Globe there were pictures of fans, half the age of Pesky, who spoke about him as if he had been a personal chum of those who were interviewed.  Broadcasters were asked to relay their favorite Johnny Pesky story. A major sports writer for the Globe dedicated his column today to the passing of this icon.  Sport is so central to our society that a person who we know only from the sports pages can be mourned as if he was a beloved uncle.

 I remember several years ago after a Boston manager was fired that I walked into my health club and by the time I had gotten to the locker room three acquaintances asked me "if I had heard the news"  Already in August the locker room is abuzz with worried discussions about whether the "line will be able to protect Tom".  This is shorthand for whether the New England Patriots offensive line will be able to protect quarterback Tom Brady--Tom to those of us whom he would not know from a server in McDonalds.  In a furniture store on Sunday I was sporting a New England Patriots tee shirt.  A salesperson--not even the one attending to the purchase--said, "What do you think?"    The fitness trainer in the gym stopped me as I was leaving the other day wanting to know what I thought about the trade.  I knew he was referring to the basketball trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Celtics' rival, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Our teams and the players on them become part of our discourse in a way that few other current events do.  Johnny Pesky was a member of the family in Boston--even though you might never have met him 

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