An Open Letter to the New England Community by the Yawkey Foundations
Recently, as part of an important series examining whether Boston deserves its reputation as a racist city, the Globe’s Spotlight Team looked at the role of sports in contributing to this perception, including the history of the Red Sox under former owner Tom Yawkey.
The story described calls by team (and Globe) owner John Henry to change the name of Yawkey Way outside of Fenway Park as a sign of “hope” for improving the city’s image, since “no other professional sports franchise plays near a street named for such a racially divisive figure.”
As the Spotlight series makes clear, perceptions do matter. But they can be unfair and often based on misinformation and myths. And because Tom Yawkey cannot speak for himself we feel compelled to speak for him.
The Globe’s characterizations of Tom Yawkey, presented as a generally accepted viewpoint at a time when its publisher is seeking to rename Yawkey Way, are a prime example of why it is important to look behind perceptions to see what is fact and what is fiction.
It is indisputably true, and regrettable, that the Red Sox were last in the Major Leagues to integrate, in 1959. But the Globe’s claim that Yawkey worked to keep his team white “longer than anyone else” is contradicted by the notable efforts that he and general manager Joe Cronin made during the 1950’s to acquire and develop black players.
- In 1950, according to negroleaguebaseball.com, “the Boston Red Sox ended their era of racial exclusion” when they signed Lorenzo “Piper” Davis to a minor league contract with their Scranton Class A affiliate.
- In 1950 and 1952, the Red Sox sought to acquire Larry Doby, a black center fielder for the Cleveland Indians, at one point offering to trade Dom DiMaggio, but Cleveland decided Doby was too valuable to let go. The team also tried in late 1952 to acquire black St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Bill Greason, but the offer was rejected.
- In 1953, the Red Sox signed a highly rated 19-year-old black prospect, Earl Wilson. After he won a 5-2 victory pitching in a spring training game against the team’s Major League squad in 1957, the consensus was that he was ready to be promoted, which would have put the Red Sox ahead of several other teams in integrating. But within two weeks of his win, Wilson was drafted by the Marines. After serving his country for two years, he returned to the team in 1959, a week after Pumpsie Green officially integrated the Major League club.
- In 1954, the team offered $100,000 to the Dodgers to acquire black second baseman Charley Neal, but was rebuffed, as reported in contemporary press accounts, including the Globe’s.
- The often-repeated story that Tom Yawkey yelled a racial slur at a tryout for Jackie Robinson and two other black ballplayers in April 1945 is demonstrably false. According to several sources, including Yawkey’s wife, Jean, he was not even in Boston at the time, and Globe columnist Will McDonough, based on his reporting, wrote in 1997, “That never happened.”
It is reasonable to ask why the Red Sox could not achieve integration of the Major League club sooner, or why, like many other teams, they were unable to sign black stars like Robinson and Willie Mays. But it is highly unreasonable to use those facts without context to paint Tom Yawkey as racially divisive.
In fact, Tom and Jean Yawkey treated everyone alike. Through the Yawkey Foundations they left almost all of their wealth for people in need, regardless of their color. To date, the Foundations have poured nearly $450 million into charities — $280 million to Boston charities.
Boston must confront the question posed by the Spotlight series and seek to change the city’s stubborn image as an inhospitable place for minorities. But there should be no doubt about Tom Yawkey’s character or about keeping the name of the street that honors his memory.
The Trustees of the Yawkey Foundations
John L. Harrington, Chairman | James P. Healey, President
Yawkey Foundations Statement
April 26, 2018
We are deeply disappointed with today’s decision by the City’s Public Improvement Commission to grant
John Henry’s petition to rename Yawkey Way at Fenway Park.
As we have said throughout this process, the effort to expunge Tom Yawkey’s name has been based on
a false narrative about his life and his historic 43-year ownership of the Red Sox. The drastic step of
renaming the street, now officially sanctioned by the City of Boston (and contradicting the honor the
City bestowed upon Tom Yawkey over 40 years ago), will unfortunately give lasting credence to that
narrative and unfairly tarnish his name, despite his unparalleled record of transforming the Red Sox and
Fenway Park and supporting the city he loved through his philanthropy.
We have always acknowledged that it is regrettable that the Red Sox were the last Major League
baseball team to integrate. We also realize there were strong feelings in favor of renaming Yawkey Way
based on that painful fact and other criticisms about the team’s record concerning race and inclusivity.
But we also believe that consideration of the whole story of the team’s efforts to integrate and the full
picture of Tom Yawkey’s life more than justified keeping the name Yawkey Way.
The Yawkey Foundations will carry on the mission of Tom and his wife, Jean, a legacy of giving that has
provided more than $300 million to organizations throughout Boston. The charitable work he began
when he was alive is as important as ever, and we will continue to focus our efforts on sustaining his
dedication to helping those in need.
We want to thank those who supported us in opposing the name change, especially our grantees, many
of whom have proudly put the Yawkey name on the buildings and facilities made possible by gifts from
the Foundations. We also appreciate the countless e-mails, phone calls and notes we received asking, as
we did, why the Red Sox would seek to dishonor a man who did so much for the team and the City.
This a sad day for all of us at the Foundations. Tom Yawkey deserved to have his name live on at Fenway
Park. We can’t change today’s decision, but we remain hopeful that he will be remembered as the good
and decent man he truly was.