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Bill Nowlin on Tom Yawkey’s life and legacy

Bill Nowlin at Fenway Park.

When Bill Nowlin began research on a biography of Tom Yawkey, the former Red Sox owner hadn’t made many extended appearances in print. “It was just these very few articles, a few thousand words each,” Nowlin (inset) says. Now those seeking a more extensive look at Yawkey’s life can now turn to Nowlin’s recently released book, “Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox.” In it the founder of Rounder Records and author of several volumes about the Red Sox closely examines Yawkey’s life, legacy, and the controversy surrounding it. Nowlin will discuss the book at Porter Square Books Wednesday night.

Q. Were there any people that offered particularly illuminating insight into Yawkey’s life and legacy?


A. It ranged from former ballplayers that got to know him — Jim Lonborg and Reggie Smith, for instance — to people like the doorman at the Ritz, where he lived. I also took a trip to South Carolina to visit his home, [where he spent] more time than any place else. It was usually May, or sometimes even June before he got back up to Boston. He didn’t like the cold weather that much, so I was able to talk with some people who worked on his businesses or properties down there.

Q. How does your book address allegations that Yawkey was racist?

A. I spent a lot of time digging into [race and the Red Sox]. Looking at Yawkey, certainly the allegations were out there, and it was something I dug into particularly because it would have been interesting to find what you call a “smoking gun.” I could just never find one. I looked really hard to try to find something. Players who knew him after the Red Sox finally did integrate, both black ballplayers and white players, all said relatively similar things.


Q. What are your thoughts on why it took so long for the Red Sox to become integrated?

A. I could never find any indication that he was personally racist. On the other hand, there’s a saying that “the proof’s in the pudding,” and the Red Sox were the last team to integrate. They were a few years behind the Yankees and the Phillies. The major leagues were integrated over about 12 years. The Red Sox could have been the first [to integrate], if they had hired Jackie Robinson when he was right there in Fenway Park for tryouts in April 1945, but they didn’t, and they didn’t find anybody for 12 more years, until it had become an embarrassment. For some reason, it didn’t happen, and that’s on his watch. He has to bear responsibility for that.

Interview was edited and condensed. Kaya Williams can be reached at