Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (April 3, 2010 – Source: Jim Rogash/Getty Images North America)
The City of Boston, by unanimous decision, voted last Thursday to officially change to the name of Yawkey Way back to its original Jersey Street. While the decision has stirred up some controversy, it is without doubt the right decision, and is long overdue. Tom Yawkey ownd the team for 44 years, but his entire tenure was filled with the poor decisions of a horribly flawed man. The City of Boston did the right thing, and it’s time to say goodbye to Yawkey Way, and good riddance.
A long overdue goodbye to Yawkey Way
Erasing history versus celebrating it
Detractors of the name change say that changing its name erases the history of the Boston Red Sox. Like it or not, Yawkey has a sizeable part in Fenway’s history, and changing the street name signifies the city trying to pretend Yawkey’s part of history never happened.
However, changing the street name won’t lead to Yawkey’s history being erased. Nobody is proposing removing the Tom Yawkey Era from any Red Sox historical tour. Yawkey will still be a large part of any history book written about the Red Sox, and changing the street name won’t change that. This move wasn’t made to erase history, but rather to stop celebrating the wrong parts of it. As one of the most historical cities in the country, Boston shouldn’t have a tough time with this concept.
Boston is a city rich with history, and all of our monuments celebrating our country’s founding accurately portray that. From the George Washington Equestrian Statue to the Boston Massacre monument, the City has several key statues and tributes to the brave men and women that helped give this country freedom.
One trend that is common is that there are no monuments for the British. Sure, some of the monuments mention British soldiers, but there are none devoted to recognizing their works. Obviously, this is because the British were in the wrong. However, despite the lack of statues, we still know who they are. We know who King George was, and the British are still engraved in our history.
Likewise, Yawkey will always be engrained in the Red Sox history. Changing the name of Yawkey Way won’t change that any more than not having statues of British soldiers. Memorials and statues are only meant to celebrate history. So, should Yawkey be celebrated?
Does Yawkey deserve to be celebrated?
The short answer: no. Tom Yawkey was a terrible person, and should not be celebrated. Yes, he was the longtime owner of the Red Sox, and yes, I am a Red Sox fan. However, I’m still able to look at the flaws of my favorite baseball franchise, and Yawkey is arguably the biggest dark stain in Red Sox history.
Yawkey defenders will claim that the man came from a different time, and was the product of a generation. While nobody denies the man racial insensitivities, some claim that he wasn’t consciously racist, rather just culturally insensitive.
However, an analysis of Yawkey’s actions as owner show that this is not the case. Even by the standards of his own time, Yawkey was a bigot and a racist, and should not be celebrated. The evidence to support this claim is in how he operated as an owner.
Yawkey’s racist ways should not be championed
The Boston Red Sox were notoriously the last team in major league baseball to become integrated, and Yawkey was fighting the desegregation from the start. This might be more forgivable if the Red Sox had only missed desegregation by a few seasons. Imagine, for a moment, that every team in the league had signed a talented minority player within three seasons of Jackie Robinson’s debut, while the Red Sox waited five years. It wouldn’t be a good look, but it would be somewhat understandable.
That’s not what happened. Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and the Red Sox stayed all white until Pumpsie Green joined the club twelve years later in 1959. By comparison, Robinson retired in 1957, meaning that his entire historic major league career had come and gone before Yawkey allowed a black man to wear a Red Sox uniform.
Once more, Yawkey’s defenders will point out that the Boston Red Sox had black players in their farm system, and also held tryouts for African American superstars Willie Mays and Robinson himself. However, this is basically the 1940’s version of the “I’m not racist, I have black friends” argument.
Mays and Robinson are two of the greatest baseball players in history, regardless of skin tone. Any organization in the world should have been begging for their services, and Boston had the inside track on both of them. However, neither signed with the Red Sox, and it’s not hard to figure out why. The overwhelming opinion among those involved at the time was that Yawkey would not allow these signings to happen. Since he was the owner, he’d obviously have final say in the matter.
Fighting desegregation through the 50’s
While none of the farm players in the 1950’s ever had the careers of Mays or Robinson, it seems incredibly surprising that the Sox couldn’t develop an African American player capable of earning a spot in the majors. These 1950’s Red Sox teams weren’t exactly stacked with talent, either. From 1951 to 1966, the Red Sox never finished closer than ten games out of first place. To say these teams lacked talent was an understatement, yet none of the African American players could crack the roster until 1959. To suggest that Yawkey had nothing to do with this is to be intentionally ignorant.
All this should show that Yawkey was racist even for his time, but if you need actual verbal testimony, take it from Jackie Robinson himself. Robinson called Yawkey “one of the most bigoted guys in baseball”, which is truly saying something. Consider everything that Robinson endured as the first black player in major league baseball.
Robinson had to deal with arguably more bigotry than anyone else in sports history, yet Yawkey stood out as one of the worst in the crowd. Is that really the type of person who should have a street named in his memory?
Yawkey’s later years were not better
While Yawkey’s actions weren’t defendable under any circumstances, some might argue that he matured with age. He reportedly had a good relationship with players like Luis Tiant. Perhaps, Yawkey realized the error of his ways and partially redeemed himself in his later years.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. While the peak of Yawkey’s racist accusations occurred in the 1940’s and 1950’s, his later years were not free of controversy. Instead of racism, Yawkey went a different route in the 1970’s by protecting a pedophile who worked for the organization.
Donald Fitzpatrick, a longtime clubhouse attendant of the Boston Red Sox, was accused of sexually abusing several minors while working for the team. These actions weren’t secret, as both the victims and the players reported these actions. Nonetheless, Fitzpatrick remained employed, despite allegations continually popping up.
There’s no grey area in this case. The abuse wasn’t alleged, it undoubtedly happened. Don’t believe me, just ask Fitzpatrick himself. The longtime clubhouse attendant pleaded guilty in 2002 to four counts of sexual battery between the years of 1975-1989. The man was a monster, yet Yawkey protected him and kept him employed to avoid bad publicity.
In fairness, not all of the blame can be placed solely on Yawkey. The accusations continued until 1991, and Yawkey himself died of leukemia in 1977. However, the accusations first began in 1971, so Yawkey had plenty of time to do the right thing. Instead, he used his power to protect a child predator in a desperate and pathetic attempt to avoid some bad headlines. And, in case you’re wondering, Fitzpatrick was white.
To put it bluntly, Tom Yawkey was a monster and a terrible human being, and his legacy should not be celebrated in the form of Yawkey Way. The man will still be a part of Red Sox history, but let’s remember him for who he was. Dedicating Jersey Street in his memory was a way to celebrate his life, idolize him and brush over his flaws. As a city, Boston deserves better. Goodbye Yawkey Way, and good riddance.