(Photo Credit: PSA)
By Ted Gay – @TedG63
It was the summer of 1975. The Red Sox, led by the gold dust twins, Freddy Lynn and Jim Rice, were propelling the hometown team to the World Series. And their owner was dying.
Tom Yawkey had been diagnosed with leukemia. The owner who loved working out with the players on the field was regulated to his luxury box. Occasionally he would be seen, a small, wrinkled, smiling man, the precursor of Yoda.
“Win it for Mr. Yawkey,” became a rallying cry. But it wasn’t to be. He passed away July 9 of the following year and a yet to be christened Red Sox Nation mourned. It seemed only fitting that the non-descript Jersey Street be named for the man who built Fenway Park.
Boston, the country, and the world were different places. The city was in the middle of the busing crisis. The underbelly of racism which liberal Massachusetts had kept hidden was exposed. White parents threw rocks at buses filled with black children. Men stood with watermelons over their heads, screaming racial epitaphs at African-Americans. Attorney Theodore Landsmark was attacked outside city hall for the crime of being black. The white man who attacked did so with a pole attached to an American flag.
The 1975 Red Sox, like the 2013 team, helped heal a troubled city. To do so the Red Sox had to be free of racial strife despite having an owner in Yawkey who not only was the last one to sign a black player, but also did not have a single black employee, from the dugout, to the concession stands, to the ground crew, to the front office. The south side of Chicago may have been the home of the White Sox, but the Bo-Sox were the whitest organization in sports.
The Red Sox were ably aided in their quest to remain racially pure by sportswriters who refused to acknowledge any racial problems. Will McDonough, who cultivated inside information by playing the house organ for the owners, protected Yawkey. McDonough was not considered a racist, but a pragmatist, who understood it was best to keep race out of the clubhouse, and fought younger Turks like Peter Gammons who tried to unmask Yawkey’s bigotry. Sportswriters loyal to Yawkey repeated, amongst other alternate facts Joe Cronin’s statement that he was protecting African-Americans by not subjecting them to the racism they would face at their Triple-A affiliate in Louisville.
Clif Keane best personified the sportswriter of that era. He was at Fenway Park while Jackie Robinson was trying out and being ignored by Yawkey, manager Joe Cronin, and general manager Eddie Collins. Keane reported, years after the fact, that Yawkey yelled: “Get that n****r off the field.” Keane showed the duality of the Boston sportswriter by also liberally throwing the “N” word around the Globe newsroom until a newly hired Larry Whiteside told him if he did it again, he would knock Keane on his ass. At the end of the 70’s, Keane hosted a radio show with Larry Clafin, where they gleefully laughed about George Scott’s “watermelon grin.”
McDonough, who was not at Fenway that day, would repeatedly insist that the incident never occurred, and that neither Cronin or Yawkey were present. Cronin would go on to be President of the American League, back when they had such an office, and blocking African-Americans from working was not a reason to be denied the title of President. There is an argument to be had that nothing has changed.
Not even McDonough tried to whitewash Pinky Higgins, a drunken southern racist, and good friend of Ty Cobb, handpicked by Yawkey to manage the Sox in the late 50’s and early 60’s, who is best remembered for vowing that, “there will be no n******s on this team.”
So, there were very few voices of opposition raised when Jersey Street became Yawkey Way. It was agreed that sweet Tom Yawkey, who may have been a little behind the times on integration, was a good man, and should be immortalized.
The current Red Sox ownership wants to tie Red Sox racism solely to Yawkey, but the disease of racism merely continued destroying the Red Sox clubhouse after his death. Tommy Harper was fired from his front office job in 1985 for taking a stand against the Red Sox affiliation with a whites-only elks club in Winter Haven that gave passes to the white players and refused the black players entry. Harper filed a suit with the Massachusetts Council Against Discrimination, ten years after Yawkey’s death, and won. Ellis Burks was warned in 1992, not to date white women. He ignored the warning and when he became a free agent he did not get an offer from his former employer. The Red Sox only developed seven African-American everyday players: Burks, Reggie Smith, Cecil Cooper, George Scott, Mo Vaughn, Troy O’Leary and Jim Rice during the Yawkey family ownership. All but Rice were traded or allowed to leave, plus two pitchers who won ten or more games, Earl Wilson and Oil Can Boyd, also traded.
A change did not happen until 2001 when the current ownership bought the Red Sox. Now, a team that regularly had the least amount of African-American players on their roster may, on Opening Day, start only two players, Chris Sale and Andrew Benintendi who are not either black or of Hispanic descent.
The days of the Boston Red Sox being a racist organization are thankfully over. But their complicated history will not be erased by changing a street name.
I am sure people will want to choose a new street name to be racially inclusive, while others will want to honor the Red Sox history. To end all debate, I suggest the only name that every Sox fan can agree on.
Come Opening Day 2019 I do hope that we watch the pregame show and see Tom Caron sitting at his desk on the newly named “Fuck The Yankees Way.”
ICYMI: AVIDBOSTON PODCAST EPISODE 30: MARTINEZ FINALLY SIGNS! WILL SWIHART BE TRADED? HANLEY BATTING THIRD? REALLY?
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