Most of the tributes to Johnny Pesky that poured in after his death Monday at age 92 have focused on his life as a Boston Red Sox legend, and rightly so. He gave his heart and soul to that organization and was one of its icons.
But let’s not forget that he was also part of the Seattle baseball legacy. The Portland, Oregon native was named manager of the Seattle Rainiers after Tom Yawkey, owner of the Red Sox, bought controlling interest of the Pacific Coast League team in 1960. Pesky managed the Rainiers in 1961 and ’62 before he was brought to Boston to manage the Red Sox.
The picture above, from the collection of indispensable Seattle baseball historian David Eskenazi, shows Pesky as Rainiers manager. That ’61 Seattle club was a powerhouse, rolling to an 86-68 record, which was good for only third in the PCL, 11 games behind the Tacoma Giants, and one behind the second-place Vancouver Mounties. In his biography, “Mr. Red Sox,” Pesky said, “My ’61 club was the best I ever had, and that includes the big leagues.” They were in first place for three months before several players were promoted to the Red Sox, and they faltered. Among the stars of that team were future major league pitchers Dick Radatz and Earl Wilson. Marian Coughtry drew 151 walks, and Lou Clinton knocked in 102 runs.
Pesky’s Rainiers went 76-74 in 1962, with Jungle Jim Rivera returning to Seattle after 10 years in the majors. Pesky would last just two seasons managing the Red Sox, going 76-85 in ’63, 70-90 in ’64 (before getting fired with two games left in the season, and replaced by Billy Herman). Pesky would have a short stint coaching with the Pirates before returning to the Red Sox for the rest of his life as coach, broadcaster and good-will ambassador. He was, of course, a FOTW — Friend of Ted Williams, as chronicled in David Halberstam’s book, “The Teammates”, which detailed the close relationship of Williams, Pesky, Bobby Doerr (still living in Oregon at age 94) and Dom DiMaggio.
The picture above, another classic from the Eskenazi collection, shows from left, former Red Sox pitcher Earl Johnson (who was from Redmond), Ted Williams, Dick Bee (Rainier Brewey business manager/Rainiers GM, who recently died), Rainiers legend Edo Vanni, and Pesky.
Eskenazi tells me in an e’mail it’s probably from 1961, and that “Williams was likely here in Seattle for a Sportsman’s (fishing) show appearance. … He may have been here to address the Rainiers too, helping Pesky out.”
Whenever and whatever it is, I love that photo. RIP, Johnny Pesky.