It’s hard to imagine a more timely baseball book than the one Bill Nowlin has written about former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. Normally Yawkey, who died in 1976, wouldn’t be a current topic of conversation. What has brought his name back into the headlines, however, is drive to change Yawkey Way – the street that runs along Fenway Park – back to Jersey Street. Propelling the effort is the desire to distance the club from the racist clouds thought to linger from the Yawkey era, which saw the Red Sox become the last major-league team to integrate. Although this more-than-500-page biography doesn’t directly address the current street-naming controversy, it does shine a lot of light on a man who has remained something of a mystery despite owning the Red Sox for an incredible 44 years.
Here’s an excerpt from Tom Yawkey:
“In an appraisal of Tom Yawkey’s life, it seems unavoidable that we revisit the question of Yawkey and race. This issue keeps cropping up like the proverbial bad penny. Had Tom Yawkey been a racist? There appears to be no conclusive evidence one way or another. It remains an inescapable fact that the Red Sox were the last Major League team to field a black ballplayer. As sole owner of the Red Sox, Yawkey had the opportunity – for many years – to take even a symbolic step toward desegregation. He could have done so during World War II, building on the fact that black soldiers were giving their lives to defend America. He could have brought in one, two, or more talented black ballplayers and forged a a historic pioneering role for himself and the Red Sox.
“Boston was, after all, where the American Revolution began, with the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the battles of Lexington and Concord. It was also, thanks to Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, in the forefront of the abolitionist movement. It’s not as though Yawkey couldn’t have said the ‘right’ things and reaped media credit.”