The Boston Red Sox were the last Major League Baseball team to integrate. They didn’t add a black player to their ranks until 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. At the time, owner Tom Yawkey was accused of being a racist. And now, all these years later, the Red Sox want to eliminate a piece of his legacy because of it.
Current Red Sox owner John Henry told the Boston Herald, in a story that published Thursday, that he wants to change the name of Yawkey Way, the street outside of Fenway Park that’s a pre-game entry point and popular gathering spot. Henry told The Herald that he is “haunted” over the racial issues in the Red Sox’s past and would prefer to change the name of the street “if others in the community favor a change.”
Henry suggests renaming it after recently retired slugger Davis Ortiz. Here’s more from The Herald’s Michael Silverman:
The team is not trying to erase its history, but as Henry said, the time is right for the change and the conversation about race that it will spark.
“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,” said Henry in an email. “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.”
If it were up to Henry, he would rename the street “David Ortiz Way” or “Big Papi Way.” But before a new name is considered, the name change process needs to start with Henry and the one other Yawkey Way abutter petitioning the City of Boston for approval.
“The Red Sox don’t control the naming or renaming of streets,” Henry said. “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.”
Yawkey Way got its name in 1977, a year after Yawkey died. He’d overseen the team since 1933. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.
Henry is right that the Red Sox don’t control the naming of streets, but, according to The Herald, it doesn’t sound like this process would be too tough. Since it’s not a residential street, changing the name of Yawkey Way would only require the approval of two businesses — the Red Sox and The ‘47 Brand, which is also on Yawkey Way. Henry says the Red Sox have already talked to current employees who worked under the Yawkeys — Tom’s wife Jean took over as owner after his death — and they were OK with changing the name.
Bobby D’Angelo of ’47 Brand told The Herald that he’s in favor of changing the name too:
“Honestly, we’re not talking about a human being here, we’re talking about the name of a street,” he said. “I can’t lose sleep over Yawkey Way changing its name, there’s just too many other things in this world to worry about. That’s the last thing we would worry about.”
It probably won’t be that easy in the court of public opinion. As recent events in the country have shown, the tangling of race and history is a hot-button issue that is sure to inspire some angry opinions.
[Dan Wetzel: Red Sox fans confront racist owner’s past]
This isn’t a Confederate monument we’re talking about, so the renaming of Yawkey Way shouldn’t inspire a Charlottesville-type protest, but the same people who get mad because statues are getting taken down are very likely to get mad at the Red Sox for this.
Henry said the Boston City Council previously didn’t want to open a can of worms with this issue in the past. Well, the can is open now.
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