Over the last few months there has been a swelling of support to rename Yawkey Way because many feel that Tom Yawkey‘s racism is a stain on the Red Sox storied past.
For the uninitiated, Yawkey Way is the main street that borders Fenway park and where Red Sox offices are currently located. Tom Yawkey, owned the Red Sox from 1933 to until his death in 1976, and his wife, Jean Yawkey, remained as majority owner until her death in 1992. The Yawkey Trust continued to own the team until 2002. In 1976, the city of Boston renamed the two block section of Jersey Street closed to the park to be called Yawkey Way after Tom Yawkey’s death.
There are numerous stories of how Tom Yawkey was against the integration of the Red Sox.
A 1945 tryout for Jackie Robinson and a few other Negro League stars was only done to placate a Boston council member, and the story goes that an expletive was yelled by the owner to get them off the field. In 1949, Willie Mays was reportedly told he was not a “Red Sox type of player”. And the Red Sox, under Yawkey, were the last team in the majors to break the color barrier by signing Pumpsie Green in 1959. These facts make it hard to deny that racism did exits under the Yawkey ownership.
There are also apologists for Yawkey such as Al Hirshberg, author of “What’s the Matter with the Red Sox”, who believed
“It was these older scouts who can be blamed for the club’s failure to get a top black player when plenty of good ones were available”.
Others point to the signing of Ted Williams in 1939 as a Mexican American who was named the All Latino team by MLB in 2012 as proof that he was just a scapegoat for a racist city.
The other argument is that he just was a product of the racist world around him and we should hold him directly accountable.
However you really can’t rely on any of these excuses. Yawkey was ultimately in charge of his team and allowed it to happen. It really doesn’t matter if he verbally announced his racism or he allowed others to control the outcome in instances such as when Baseball historian Glenn Stout recounts
“Yawkey would allegedly go to Red Sox scouts and say, ‘How come we don’t have any African-American players?’ Their response would be, ‘We can’t find any,’ and Yawkey’s response to that would be, ‘Well, if we can’t find any, we can’t find any.’”
Regardless of Tom Yawkey’s racist-like legacy. I still believe Yawkey Way should remain.
In our politically correct world of removing the confederate flag, banning Halloween costumes, and wishing each other Happy Holidays throughout the year, it is time to remember that we once lived in a world where not everything was always great.
The Yawkey name does bring up some of these bad memories, after all the Yawkeys owned the Red Sox for 59 of the 85 years of the curse years. But should we really forget the curse? A whole generation of Red Sox fans now exist that expect the playoffs. They think three world championships since 2004 are the norm.
Walking down Yawkey Way is a reminder of what was.
Yes, we should call them “the Yawkey years”. The years of having a some great stars players but never winning a championship. The years of despair. The years of racism in Boston. The years of bad decisions. The years of heartbreak. The years than anyone who lived through them would gladly live through again in order to celebrate like we did in 2004. The Yawkey years were not great for our team but they need to be remembered, since that is where we came from.
The Yawkey name now is legendary. It does not just represent just Tom Yawkey’s racism. It represents Tom’s full tenure as team owner and baseball hall of fame member as such. It represents over 59 years of the Red Sox team’s history of both Tom and Jean as owners. It represents, Jean Yawkey as the second woman owner in MLB, and first woman trustee of the baseball hall of fame. It represents the Yawkey Foundation, one of the city’s major nonprofit, granting over $272 million dollars to the Boston area from 1977 to 2014. It represents just as much good as bad.
Others are saying the street should be named for one of the great Red Sox players such as Williams, Yaz, Rice or Ortiz. No mater what player name you choose is it really the right choice? Do they represent the long storied franchise of this team? There are four other streets that border the Fenway park grounds, Van Ness, Lansdowne, Ipswich, and Brookline. Lets rename part of those first. Three of those street names actually had nothing to do with Boston, baseball or even the state of Massachusetts. Even if they did have some semblance of representing Boston in its perfect glory, Then that is a reminder of why we should keep Yawkey Way. So we don’t forget where this historic franchise came from.
I hope that 50 years from now my grandchild ( or maybe even my great-grandchild) can walk down Yawkey Way and ask me who Yawkey was and I can tell them about the 59 years of Boston Red Sox baseball that occurred under the Yawkey name. Starting in 1930’s from the signing of great names like Lefty Grove, Joe Cronin, and Jimmy Foxx , the removal of Duffy’s Cliff and the addition of scoreboard to the Green Monster. The years of the teammates, Williams, Doerr, Pesky, and DiMaggio and the infamous “Williams Shift”in 1946 . The struggles of the 1950’s teams. Yaz, and “The Impossible Dream” year of 1967. The great teams of the 70’s with Rice, Lynn, Evans and Fisk. The heartbreak of the rivalry with the Yankees culminating with Bucky bleeping Dent That glorious 1986 team with Boggs, Clemens, Rice, Evans, Hendu and Oil Can and heartbreaking Buckner ball.
Yes, the Yawkey years might not have ever ended in a championship but they are the teams history. The good and bad.
Everytime I walk on Yawkey Way I remember and we owe it to our future generations to remember too.