In 1988, Johnny Pesky was a regular customer at the bank in Swampscott where Stacey Bambrick worked. The Red Sox legend would make sure to say goodbye each time he stopped by the bank.
“He would always say ‘see you later, kid,’ ” Bambrick, 42, of Medford, said as she mimicked Pesky tapping her on the chin. “He was a real sweetheart.”
The story epitomized the recollections of dozens of Boston Red Sox fans Monday, following the news that Pesky, a former infielder whose lifelong affiliation with the team transformed him into a team icon, had died at 92.
“He was part of the old guard, having been a part of the team for so long,” said Peter Boyd, 33, of Boston. “I think he was good to have around. It says a lot about what he meant to the organization that they kept him around for so long.”
Over six decades, Pesky, who broke in with the Sox in 1942, was a sparkplug infielder, manager, broadcaster, coach, and executive.
His affiliation with the Red Sox bridged generations of players, coaches, and owners.
“He was the Red Sox, in my eyes,” said Mike Briggs, 37, of Brookline, in Kenmore Square. “He was a grandfather type who I could relate to because I knew he was there through all the history.”
Part of that history includes the Red Sox’s heartbreaking defeat in the 1946 World Series, when Pesky failed to make a throw home, allowing St. Louis Cardinals Hall-of-Famer Enos Slaughter to score the winning run in the decisive seventh game.
But Pesky’s Red Sox history also includes the World Series championship of 2004, when team members congratulated him in the clubhouse following Boston’s four-game sweep of the Cardinals.
“It was redemption,” Boyd said, “especially for him after ’46 when they say he held the ball too long.”
In his later years, Pesky took on the role of ambassador for the Red Sox organization, but he also served as an instructor in spring training and could often be found with a bat in his hands, giving advice to the young players working their way through the farm system.
“He hit ground balls for hours — for hours! — and those kids never forgot it,” said Bob Daly, 69, a Weymouth resident. “He really cared for the organization. In his era, they really used to play for a team that they loved. He loved the Red Sox until he died.”
Even some who never loved the Red Sox shared their admiration for Pesky.
“Even as a Yankees fan, you respect true greatness, and he falls into that category,” said Paul Horowitz, 60, of New York.
‘He was a legend and always will be.’
Pesky was part of the inaugural class of Red Sox Hall of Fame inductees in 1995. In 2008, the Red Sox retired Pesky’s number 6 on the right field facade, not far from the foul pole that bears his name. Unlike other stars who disappeared from the spotlight after their careers ended, Pesky remained, last appearing at the team’s celebration of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary.
“I love the fact that he always came back,” said Judith Ferrera, 73, of Framingham, sitting with her husband, Gerald, on a bench at Castle Island. “He just loved the game of baseball.”
As she gazed out at Deer Island in the distance, the South Boston native recalled watching Pesky play back when “Ladies Night” Red Sox tickets cost 50 cents apiece.
Those days are long gone. But as Ferrera’s husband reflected on Pesky’s legacy, he said he expected it to live on.
“He was a legend and always will be,” Gerald said. “Great loss, but what he left behind was the important thing.”Colin A. Young can be reached
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