Are the Red Sox laboring under the Curse of Tom Yawkey?
The Red Sox — some of them, anyway — will be visiting the White House on Thursday to be honored by President Trump. It will be the team’s fourth White House visit this century.
But it has also become the most problematic. After months of reckoning, manager Alex Cora, a native of Puerto Rico, announced that he won’t be making the trip. To his credit, Cora hasn’t been coy about the reason for his hesitation. He doesn’t want to play footsie with a president whose idea of providing aid for his native island after Hurricane Maria was to fly down and toss around a few rolls of paper towels.
Cora’s decision meant that nearly all the uniformed Sox of color are taking a pass on the trip. Meanwhile, almost all of the team’s white players are going.
It’s awkward for the Sox. And it’s awkward for this Sox ownership, which has made a point of distancing itself from the team’s racist history, pushing for the renaming of Yawkey Way, and the creating of an antiracism program — “Take The Lead” — that joins the city’s professional sports team in a collaboration to promote inclusion from the stands to the front offices.
Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said Monday the team did not want to make a political statement by declining an invitation from the White House.
“The most important thing was to be consistent,” Kennedy said in a phone interview. “This is all about giving the players this opportunity they deserved. We’ve gone under two Republican administrations, and under [former president] Obama, and now we’re going under Trump. It certainly would have been a big political statement to not go.”
But isn’t going a statement, too?
“We don’t see this as an endorsement of a particular politician or a set of policies or procedures,” Kennedy said. “We see this as recognition of our players for a world championship. That’s the way we’ve looked at it going back to 2004.”
But Kennedy can’t — and didn’t — deny that this trip is different than its predecessors. Just as Richard Nixon was the president who famously made “launder” a dirty word, Trump is the president who has transformed a harmless ritual into a matter of conscience. The Sox are just the latest team divided over whether to accept Trump’s hospitality.
The most striking thing about Cora’s refusal, for me, is that his reasoning is so specific and clearly thought out. Really, why would anyone from Puerto Rico go to this White House?
And, for that matter, why would an ownership that made a point of embracing inclusion want to celebrate with a president who has gone out of his way to embody just the opposite? Donald Trump would have been Tom Yawkey’s kind of president. Doesn’t that give the Sox brass pause? (Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry is also the owner and publisher of the Globe.)
Look, I get that the Sox fan base is all over the map politically, as is their clubhouse. I understand, to a point, maybe, a fear of being blasted on Twitter by the president. But Cora gets that there is also a principle involved here. Why don’t his bosses?
Kennedy stressed that the players — those who are going, and those who are skipping it — support each other. Maybe, but there are doubters. Local sportswriter Steve Buckley tweeted to his 38,000 followers Monday that “basically it’s the white Sox” who are going to the White House.
Henry once spoke of being “haunted” by the legacy left by Yawkey, the last owner to bring a black player to his team. That statement came in the course of announcing the team’s correct and unpopular decision to have Yawkey’s name removed from the home of Fenway Park.
Now the “white” Sox are going to the White House, while their manager and most of their teammates of color sit home in silent but unmistakable protest.
I think someday that will prove haunting too.