The Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman reports that Red Sox owner John Henry is “haunted” by the racist past of previous owner Tom Yawkey and wants to rename Yawkey Way, the two-block street that runs from Brookline Avenue to Boylston Street.
Earlier this year, the Red Sox renamed an extension of Yawkey Way after David Ortiz.
Yawkey refused to promote black players from the minor leagues during the 1950’s despite exceptional performance. The Red Sox became the last major league team to integrate in 1959 when Pumpsie Green was added to the roster. Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947, called Yawkey “one of the most bigoted guys in baseball.”
This comes days after racial tensions in Charlottesville, VA where protesters and counter-protesters clashed over removing the statue of Robert E. Lee. A member of a white supremacist group drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. While President Trump has done little in the way of disavowing these hate groups, various city leaders have taken the initiative to remove Confederate monuments and the various other ways in which those people have been glorified. Baltimore, for example, removed four Confederate monuments early Wednesday morning.
Renaming Yawkey Way has been a long time coming and with the current political climate, Henry has finally been motivated enough to take action. He said, “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. 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.”
Henry added, “The Red Sox don’t control the naming or renaming of streets. But 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.”
Henry says if the decision were entirely up to him, he would dedicate the street to David Ortiz, calling it “David Ortiz Way” or “Big Papi Way.”
Though racism is a problem throughout the U.S., racism has been a particular problem in Boston at least when it comes to baseball. Earlier this year, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones had peanuts thrown at him and was called racist slurs by fans at Fenway Park. Red Sox starter David Price said he has been on the receiving end of racist taunts from Boston fans as well. After the Jones incident, other players — including CC Sabathia, Barry Bonds, Mark McLemore, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. — spoke up and said that they had been treated similarly at Fenway Park.
Henry’s sensitivity to the issue is quite understandable. And he deserves kudos for doing the right thing in pushing to rename Yawkey Way, but one has to wonder why this hadn’t been done much, much sooner.