SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 10, 2014

Red Sox history on the block

Pesky memorabilia to be sold at Fenway

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — SWAMPSCOTT — On Saturday, the diamond dust goes up for sale: the trophies, letters, photos and rings that remain from late Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky’s long baseball career. The Swampscott resident’s son, David, 61, who lives in Gloucester, will put it up for auction at Fenway Park.

Bidding has already begun at Hunt Auctions’ online site.

He isn’t selling it all, David Pesky stressed. Personal items will be retained for him and family relations.

“And the Red Sox have a lot of stuff displayed,” he said.

But he didn’t see the point of keeping things in storage that the rest of the world would never see.

“Now everybody in New England can see these things. ... And I’ve got a small house,” Pesky said.

The public, even the nonbuying public, is invited to tour the display at Fenway from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Longevity alone would have made Johnny Pesky a great baseball name. Starting when there were only 16 teams and all of them east of St. Louis, he spent his career as a manager, broadcaster and coach, mainly with the Boston Red Sox. He died in 2012 at age 93. But during his playing days, when baseball was the only sport that mattered, he was one of the great infielders and rookie of the year in 1942. Three prime years in the military during World War II skewered slightly his baseball reputation.

Included in the auction is Johnny Pesky’s 2004 World Series ring, earned as a coach, and estimated to fetch as much as $100,000. By contrast, his 2007 World Series ring has an estimated price range of up to $40,000. But there are also rings from various American League championships.

His father wasn’t one to display his baseball artifacts on the walls of his house, David Pesky said. “But he wore the (2004) ring every day. He waited six decades to get that.”

It was a long, sometimes painful, haul for Red Sox fans to that first championship in nearly a century. Johnny Pesky knew the hurt of missing out in 1946 when he was blamed for “holding the ball” in Series Game 7, as St. Louis’ Enos Slaughter raced home with the winning run.

“It never happened,” David Pesky said. It was discussed endlessly, and his father always patiently listened to the debate. What actually happened is that the pause, if there was a pause, lasted only a split second and scarcely mattered. The 1946 team included Johnny Pesky’s close friends Ted Williams, Bobby Doer and Dom DiMaggio. (Williams fielded complaints, too, over his disappointing .200 World Series batting average.)

When the 2004 World Series was clinched, contemporary fans and players sought out Johnny Pesky, seeing the victory as a kind of vindication for all the great Sox players, from Jimmy Foxx to Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, who never quite grasped the top prize.

David Pesky was around baseball for much of his life but arrived too late to see his father play. For that matter, he never played himself.

“I could never see the fastball,” he said, laughing.

He knew his dad’s friends. “(Williams) was big and loud.” Some found the Kid big, loud and obnoxious, he conceded, adding that it was a bad rap.

“He was very kind. He did a lot for charity. ... Ted was a great friend of Johnny’s. Johnny admired him.” Both worked for the Jimmy Fund.

The Peskys lived in Lynn for a time, then Swampscott.

“It was home,” Pesky said. “He loved the people of New England.”

Born in the Northwest, the Red Sox star felt welcome almost from the moment he arrived. “

The community took him under their wing,” Pesky said. “He was well-liked on the North Shore.”

David Pesky, who has no children to pass things down to, speaks of his father with affection. Auction boss Dave Hunt of Hunt Auctions in Exton, Pa., added that he’s never heard a negative word from anyone about the late Red Sox hero.

Baseball auctions can be highly profitable, said Hunt, who’s been in the business more than 20 years. He’s handled the diamond treasures of people like Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, Whitey Ford, Thurmond Munson, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and, for variety’s sake, football great Johnny Unitas.

Last year, he auctioned off the memorabilia of Teddy Ballgame himself. Some cities value their ballplayers more than others, and Boston is certainly one of the prime locations for such sales, along with New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, he said. That bodes well for the Pesky event. People like Johnny Pesky are unique in the history of the Red Sox franchise, Hunt said.

The Williams auction fetched roughly $5 million.

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.