For 40 years, Red Sox fans have flooded into Fenway Park over Yawkey Way, a stretch of Jersey Street that was renamed in 1977 for the late Sox owner Tom Yawkey, a year after his death.
Now, with the nation embroiled in a contentious reckoning over what to do about past honors bestowed on those who promoted racial injustice, the team's principal owner said he wants to change the name of the street honoring an owner with a racist past.
“The Red Sox don’t control the naming or renaming of streets,” John Henry told The Boston Herald in an e-mail interview published Thursday. “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,” Henry wrote.
Red Sox team president Sam Kennedy said in a telephone interview Thursday night that the team has had “ongoing discussion over the last several months” internally about the name change, dating back to at least early May when Baltimore centerfielder Adam Jones was taunted at Fenway with racial slurs.
The team will speak with Fenway’s neighbors over the possibility of changing the street name in the coming weeks, he said. “We have a responsibility to sustain and even elevate the debate” over how to address the mistakes of the past, he said.
Yawkey owned the team from 1933 to 1976. During that time, the Red Sox were the last Major League club in baseball to integrate, finally calling up their first black player, infielder Pumpsie Green, in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Not only did the Red Sox pass on signing Robinson and other black stars of the era, Yawkey is believed to have screamed a racial slur from the grandstands at Robinson and two other black players at a team tryout in 1945. (The person who yelled out the slur has never been positively confirmed, the Globe has reported.)
Henry, who also owns The Boston Globe, told the Herald that he would like to rename the street for David Ortiz, the retired Sox slugger born in the Dominican Republic.
The Yawkey Foundations, a philanthropic legacy of the former Sox owner, defended the Yawkey name in a statement issued Thursday.
“Jean and Tom Yawkey’s philanthropy, which has contributed more than $450 million — most of it to the Boston community — has always been color blind,” the Foundations said. “We are honored to have the Yawkey name on so many organizations and institutions that benefit Bostonians of all races. We are disheartened by any effort to embroil them in today’s political controversy.”
Henry addressed the foundations in his remarks to the Herald, saying, “The Yawkey Foundation has done a lot of great things over the years that have nothing to do with our history,” he wrote. He also said he “discussed [renaming the street] a number of times with the previous mayoral administration [but] they did not want to open what they saw as a can of worms. There are a number of buildings and institutions that bear the same name.”
Henry could not be reached Thursday evening.