Fans bustle in anticipation of the opening pitch. Vendors hawk programs and other souvenirs. The mouth-watering smell of grilled sausage fills the air – all on a street named after someone whose racial attitudes should not for one minute be allowed to stand.
Three cheers for Red Sox (and Boston Globe) owner John Henry, who wants to rename Yawkey Way. Tom and Jean Yawkey owned the team from 1933 to 1976 and, after Tom Yawkey’s death, Jean remained part owner. Over the years, the Yawkeys were civic-minded and highly philanthropic. They did a lot for disadvantaged young people, and the Yawkey name adorns medical buildings and universities around Boston. But there’s a dark stain on their good works, their reputation when it comes to the Boston Red Sox. It’s that record of racism, their blatant resistance to integrating major league baseball and especially their own team, that warrants removing their name from the road outside Fenway.
The last team to hire a black player (what Bostonian could forget Pumpsie Green?), the Yawkeys refused even to consider Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. The many years the Red Sox were not competitive were not due to the curse of the bambino (the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees) but the failure of the Yawkeys to expand the talent pool with players who were not white. If you doubt any of this, check out former Boston Herald sports writer Howard Bryant’s brilliant book Shut Out.
Enter John Henry and his team in 2002, and the whole tenor of the organization changed. A diverse group of highly talented players have won three World Series championships and have been contenders in other years. The name on the street outside the park is an unrelenting reminder of days when team ownership brought shame upon the city, even to us lifelong Red Sox fans.
According to news reports, the idea of changing the name has been under discussion since well before last week’s events in Charlottesville. There’s no need to take the Yawkeys’ names off buildings at Boston College and other institutions of higher education or off Mass. General or Boston Medical Center. It’s valid to recognize their generosity elsewhere. But Fenway Park is a different matter.
There is no educational value to preserving the Yawkey name on that street. John Henry has suggested naming it after David Ortiz. What better icon of the new era, beloved by the city as much for his ebullient personality, radiant spirit and civic contributions as for his stellar career? Or suggest someone else, maybe even create a composite of names to recognize other Red Sox heroes. But let’s get it done. We have to know the Yawkey Way name has got to go.
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