By Joshua Nord – @nordjoshua
If you haven’t learned by now, the Boston Public Improvement Commission decided unanimously this week to change the name of Fenway’s neighboring street, Yawkey Way, to Jersey Street. This took place in order to distance themselves from the late franchise owner Tom Yawkey due to his history with racism.
I am not going to defend the name change, although I think Jersey Street is a garbage name to fall back on. I do not own the team, the man who wanted the name change, John Henry, does. It is important to me to bring attention to a disturbing social trend, which has been all the rage right now.
This had been an issue in the local news for several months with much discord being generated from either side. In a perfect world this would be where the issue ends. Both sides gave it their all, and a decision was made. However, this is far from a perfect world, and we might yet witness another case of historical revisionism. Where the winning side gets to completely deplore the losing side and erase them from the books, only to rewrite the story as they see fit.
A lot of you might be wondering, who cares? That’s a fine opinion to hold, and it won’t make your life any harder to live. But for someone who loves history as much as myself, so much so, that I went ahead and completely ruined my life by getting a degree in it. Historical revisionism makes me wanna jump in front of the Red Line. Specifically the side of it where people apply today’s morals to past figures. Which is what I believe will happen here.
Now the knee jerk reaction to my personal opinion would be to assume I’ll attempt to gloss over the history of racism in regards to Tom Yawkey. For someone to say that he eventually “came around,” and that his neglect of black athletes shouldn’t matter due to the fact in the end the Red Sox were integrated just like every other team; To me this would be like trying to answer how do you defend the indefensible?
You can’t, you shouldn’t, and I won’t.
Tom Yawkey was in fact a racist. I’m not going to defend him. To do so would be the equivalent of stepping on a land mine. I personally do not see any reason to sympathize with him here. Racism is a problem now as much as it was in Yawkey’s time. While it might never go away, all of us should do our best to end it in our own lives.
Yawkey’s racism impacted the team. The dream of Jackie Robinson in a Red Sox uniform went unfulfilled because of his convictions. This affected the team as much as any decision an owner makes. Yawkey’s past was not clean, and it will never go away, nor should it.
However, Tom Yawkey image as a racist does not change his other accomplishments and contributions. He was as important to the franchise as was improving Fenway, and signing Ted Williams. Both of whom he played a major hand in. Because when Yawkey inherited the Red Sox, it was a far cry from the run of success it had enjoyed before the infamous Babe Ruth trade. Boston was deep in the standings of another last place finish, including 111 losses during the 1932 season.
Fenway Park itself was equally as shoddy as the on field product. It needed extensive reconstruction and repair if the Red Sox were to ever host a trophy of their own inside of it. He spent the rest of his life improving both his roster, and his ballpark. Spending much of his money to retain some of the greatest stars to ever wear a Red Sox jersey. Williams, Yastremski and Fisk to name a few. In doing so the Sox rewarded him with their first winning season in 1935 since 1918. Not to mention three World Series appearances in 1946, 1967 and 1975. Unfortunately Boston went on to lose all three in heart crushing fashion. But that’s the Sox for you, not Yawkey.
As for the field? It’s the most beloved ballpark in America. You have to thank Yawkey for that.
Finally catching up to the rest of the league in terms of constructing light fixtures enabling night games. His hand operated scoreboards still used today, and upper deck seating which hadn’t been seen in Boston since the late 19th century. The owner was vital to keeping Fenway open and
accessible, while also transforming it into the shrine people all over the world know it to be.
So what’s the point of all this? It’s because I believe the Yawkey story is simply too important to hide and distance ourselves from, for the simple fact it makes us uncomfortable. It’s tough, it’s nasty, it’s a relic from a different and harsher time. But we can’t ignore it. Nor can we brush aside the fact that a man with a condemnatory past is the primary reason the Red Sox are even still in Boston, and that we don’t go to see them at the Dunkin Donuts Ballpark in Newton.
It’s not perfect, nor what we wanted, or how we would want it. But thats history for you.
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