PAWTUCKET – Pawtucket Red Sox Team President Mike Tamburro will never forget the phone call he received from then-Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman in June 1990.
“How would you like Johnny Pesky to be your new manager?” was the message Gorman relayed to Tamburro. “I said, ‘We would love to have Johnny (pilot the PawSox).’”
To Tamburro, what made the move a no-brainer was that Pesky understood the role the PawSox organization played in harvesting future Red Sox contributors. When Pesky was a coach on Boston manager Don Zimmer’s staff in the late ‘70s, he would frequent McCoy Stadium in order to acquire a first-person account before reporting his findings to the big-league brass.
On the day Pesky was introduced as Pawtucket’s next skipper – he was 70 years old and showed no signs of slowing down – a gathering of 50 or so reporters welcomed him at an introductory press conference that unfolded at home plate at McCoy. Pesky owns the distinction as the only PawSox manager to come aboard mid-season, a factoid that was on the tip of Tamburro’s tongue Tuesday, one day after the beloved Red Sox icon passed away at age 92.
“On that June (1990) day, Johnny whispered to me, “There’s more people here (at McCoy) than there was when I was named the Red Sox manager (prior to the 1963 season),’” Tamburro shared.
Pesky managed the PawSox for the balance of the 1990 season, the short stint lasting from June 27 until September 3. He fashioned a 32-41 record, yet Tamburro recalls how the vibe around the ball club dramatically changed after Pesky’s predecessor, Ed Nottle, was fired.
“Johnny was coming down during the season and was as frustrated as we were that the players weren’t progressing the way they should have,” mentioned Tamburro. “He was chomping at the bit to get back in uniform. He did a great job that season and really wanted to come back the following year.
“He worked those kids, having early workouts every day,” Tamburro continued. “Lou (Schwechheimer, general manager of the PawSox) or I would sit in the grandstand watching early hitting or infield practice … he would put them through the routine and if a guy made an error, he would make them go stand in the third base coach’s box, which Johnny used to call his penalty box.”
Among the many hats Pesky wore in his seven-decade association with the Red Sox, perhaps the one description that best sums him up was that deep down, he loved to instruct and pass on the knowledge he had acquired to the next wave of ballplayers.
“He was the connection from the great Red Sox teams of the 1940s to the present-day teams and he would inspire the young players to carry on the Red Sox tradition,” said Tamburro about the behind-the-scenes value Pesky brought to the Red Sox. “Who else could talk about Ted (Williams), Bobby Doerr and Dominic DiMaggio? He was a special guy.”
There’s another side of Pesky that Tamburro wished to tell.
“Every year a week before spring training, Johnny’s buddies from Swampscott (Mass., which served as Pesky’s adopted hometown after originally hailing from Oregon) would get together and have dinner. It started with five or six guys. The thing is that it went on for 50 years,” Tamburro said, “and for probably the last 30 or 40 of those 50 years, 400 or 500 guys would show up to that dinner, and I’m glad we (as the PawSox organization) were there for many of them. Every year he had a different charity that he would take care of based on that dinner, which featured a lot stories, a lot of laughs and memorable nights.”
In 2004, when Pawtucket and McCoy Stadium played host to the Triple-A All-Star Game, the festivities lasted three days and included a memorable luncheon at the R.I. Convention Center in which Doerr and DiMaggio joined Pesky on stage. The trio spun baseball tales that had the audience on the edge of their seats for two hours.
Tamburro remembers everyone being transfixed by the trio of Red Sox legend.
“If those guys kept talking for another hour, I guarantee no one would have left,” he said. “It was mesmerizing and fascinating … you knew these were great baseball men who were telling their story. It was all from the heart and I’ll tell you what, it was one of the highlights of my life, listening to those three guys reminiscence.”
The PawSox honored Pesky with a moment of silence and a brief video tribute prior to Tuesday’s home game. It was a fitting touch to someone who reached iconic status, a befitting description of the person fittingly anointed as “Mr. Red Sox.”
“You may never see another one like him. To have someone spend seven decades with one organization, that’s unheard of,” Tamburro said in closing.