The Red Sox have a history with race relations regarding the team. They were the last major league team to integrate their roster, adding their first black player in 1959. Just this season, Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones was the victim of racist taunts from the crowd, and even had objects thrown at him. The image of Boston being a racist city is one that Red Sox team owner John Henry would like to shed.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry, in a discussion with the Boston Herald, said he’s still “haunted” by the racist legacy of his legendary predecessor Tom Yawkey. Henry told the Herald that his franchise welcomes renaming Yawkey Way. The Sox should take the lead in the process of rebranding the Jersey Street extension outside Fenway Park that was renamed to honor the former owner in 1977.
The Yawkey family owned the team from 1933-2002; with Tom’s wife taking the helm following his death. During their tenure, not only were zero World Series pennants brought home, but the late owner unfairly treated players of color.
In 1945, the team held their first tryout for players from the Negro League, including Jackie Robinson. While watching the workout from the bleachers, someone shouted “Get those n*****s off the field!” While it is unconfirmed, Boston Globe reporter Clif Keane believed it was Yawkey’s voice that he heard that day, according to Howard Bryant’s book “Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston.”
The street is government owned, so despite his wishes, work needs to be done for the road to be renamed. “I discussed this a number of times with the previous mayoral administration and they did not want to open what they saw as a can of worms,” said Henry in an email to the Boston Herald. “There are a number of buildings and institutions that bear the same name. The sale of the Red Sox by John Harrington helped to fund a number of very good works in the city done by the Yawkey Foundation (we had no control over where any monies were spent). The Yawkey Foundation has done a lot of great things over the years that have nothing to do with our history.”
“For me, personally, the street name has always been a consistent reminder that it is our job to ensure the Red Sox are not just multi-cultural, but stand for as many of the right things in our community as we can – particularly in our African-American community and in the Dominican community that has embraced us so fully. The Red Sox Foundation and other organizations the Sox created such as Home Base have accomplished a lot over the last 15 years, but I am still haunted by what went on here a long time before we arrived.”
If there is a petition the city for a name change, the Public Improvement Commission would then hold a hearing to consider a new street name. If the name is changed, Henry is hoping the street is named for David Ortiz.
So then we get to the question, of should the name be changed?
For starters, I think we can all agree David Ortiz has already had enough named after him in the past year. He already has a bridge and a street near the stadium with his name, and he’s only been retired for one year. It’s overkill to name a second street for him. There will be a long follow up article if the road is yet another one renamed for the retired slugger.
To the issue itself, we need to identify if the stories are all factual or if there is speculation. If he was the last to have a black player that could be because of race, or it could be he didn’t feel that the black players available were the right players for his team. Before further divulging, we can agree that there needs to be evidence. To prove guilt, there needs to be reasonable evidence beyond a claim and warrant. Being innocent until proven guilty is something this country was founded on.
Bill Nowlin, an author who has a biography about Yawkey hitting the shelves in February, spoke with the Boston Herald (<---- MUST READ ARTICLE) and has claimed he does not believe Yawkey was racist. “I remember he told someone, I believe it was [former Boston Herald columnist] George Sullivan, that he regretted that the Red Sox were the last team to integrate and that he should have done it a lot sooner.”
This shows that at minimum, he was aware of the situation with hindsight. Either he didn’t want people to know he was racist and regrets being so clearly racist, or he genuinely wasn’t racist. It really could have been either of those, but I don’t know if there is enough evidence so many years later to prove either side.
Going back to an article I already used to introduce this topic, Yawkey is accused of yelling “Get those n*****s off the field!” when Jackie Robinson and others were trying out. This is the number one supporter, besides being the last owner to employ a black player, of Yawkey being racist. The reporter at the time didn’t see Yawkey yell it. He wasn’t positive he did, and there are no other sources to tell this story. It’s been pointed out that it is pure speculation that it was the voice of Yawkey.
None of this says Yawkey wasn’t racist. At the same time, I don’t think it says he definitely was. Whether he did it or not, whether he said what he said or not, I do not believe there is enough evidence to ruin this man’s legacy. The stories all seem too incomplete to call a man racist, and to take his name off the street signs outside of Fenway Park. I’m not saying he’s racist. But I’m also not saying he’s not racist. I’m saying I don’t know for sure that he was racist enough to be erased from Red Sox history, and neither do you.
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