By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tom Yawkey, racist

Tom Yawkey and his wife, Jean, at Fenway Park in the 1930s. Photo (cc) by the Boston Public Library

Tom Yawkey and his wife, Jean, at Fenway Park in the 1930s. Photo (cc) by the Boston Public Library

Excellent column by noted baseball fan Adrian Walker in today’s Boston Globe on the racism of the late Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. Somewhere in the mists of my memory I seem to recall that when the Sox finally did sign their first black ballplayer, Pumpsie Green, Yawkey’s reaction was: “They really do have funny names, don’t they?”

Walker suggests that both Yawkey Way and the MBTA’s Yawkey Station be named for Ted Williams, who not only was “racially enlightened,” as Walker writes, but was also perhaps the greatest Latino player in major-league history.

Sounds like a good idea to me. But as an alternative, why not rename Yawkey Way for Williams and the T station for Jim Rice, a Hall of Famer and an African-American? Rice was the team’s best player at a time when Boston was considered the most racist city in America. Yet, incredibly, he was often criticized around here for his all-business demeanor and his frosty relations with the media.

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  1. You can always imagine the T station was named for Jean, not Tom.

  2. Also, re Rice, I thought the tradition was to name things after people after they’re dead, no?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: I actually considered suggesting that the T station be renamed Jean Yawkey Station. But I don’t know anything about her views, and Rice is more deserving. Why shouldn’t people have a chance to enjoy the honor while they’re still alive?

      • “Why shouldn’t people have a chance to enjoy the honor while they’re still alive?”
        I agree. But I thought that was the custom. I can only think of one instance of naming something for someone still living (Ronald Reagan National Airport).
        This also illustrates a split in the thinking regarding Jewish naming customs. Ashkenazim name for people who are dead. Sephardim name for people who are living (using your reasoning).

  3. Even more damning: Pumpsie Green reached the majors after the first black player, Robinson, had RETIRED. That’s how long it was before the Red Sox broke their own color line.

    Having said that, though – and not being blind to Yawkey’s faults – as Walker points out, he did one heck of a lot of good, too. And he did still own the team when Green, Earl Wilson, Jim Rice, George Scott, Joe Foy, Lenny Green, Reggie Smith and many other black ballplayers were employed by the Sox, so I think casting him as the baseball equivalent of Lester Maddox, standing at the door to the clubhouse with an axe handle in his hand, would be an overreach. So far as I know, Williams – who, as pointed out by Walker, was a man who cared deeply about past wrongs to black players – never spoke badly of Yawkey. Perhaps that silence may be persuasive concerning a change of Yawkey’s heart? Or it may be simple manners concerning the man who employed him; I don’t know. But I do know that, in the same Hall of Fame speech wherein he asked for Paige, Gibson and other black players to be admitted to The Hall, he also praised Yawkey as the best owner in baseball.

    I wouldn’t moan if Yawkey Way were renamed (actually, I would rather it had stayed Jersey Street to begin with…) but I can’t say I’ll be ashamed if it isn’t.

  4. mike benedict

    They should name it for Dan Shaughnessy, that legendary Knight of the Keyboard and longtime Fenway press box denizen, seeing as how he never has said or written anything that could be in any way construed as racis…oh never mind…just name it for Ted.

  5. Al Quint

    Reggie Smith didn’t leave here under the best circumstances. And he wasn’t always treated with a lot of respect. I still need to digitize it but I have an hour of the Sports Huddle show from 1973, with Eddie Andelman, Jim McCarthy and Mark Witkin. I forget the exact context but they were critical of what they considered Reggie’s bad attitude and also mentioned how Bill Russell had complained when he was here. McCarthy said something along the lines of that if they don’t like it, why don’t they go run an elevator? Small wonder Russell didn’t want anything to do with this city for a long time.

    At least Reggie won a World Series ring with the Dodgers after he left here, in 1981. 23 years before the Sox finally broke their drought.

    Howard Bryant’s “Shut Out” book is mentioned in the column. Well-worth reading.

  6. I like the ring of Orsillo Street.

    Seriously, excellent column by Walker. Amen.

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