‘I never once found any evidence that [Tom] Yawkey was personally racist,’ biographer says
Bill Nowlin’s biography of Thomas Yawkey comes out in February. In light of Red Sox principal owner and Boston Globe publisher John Henry’s recent comments that he would lead the way in trying to have Yawkey Way renamed given Yawkey’s racist past, Nowlin makes a case that Yawkey may not have been the racist that he’s portrayed as.
“I never once found any evidence that Yawkey was personally racist,” Nowlin said after extensively researching his book, “Thomas Yawkey, Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox.” “Nor did interviews with several dozen Sox players, including Pumpsie Green and Reggie Smith, turn up any such a suggestion. I looked for a smoking gun, and couldn’t find one.”
Nowlin, who has collaborated on more than 60 books on baseball and the Red Sox, gave the example that Yawkey did not personally exclude himself from friendships along racial lines.
“His closest hunting/fishing companion in South Carolina was of mixed race,” Nowlin explained. “That said, while he personally may not have been racist, it’s an undeniable fact that the Red Sox were last to integrate and had few employees of color at any level, not just on the field. With Yawkey owning 100 percent of the team, accountable to no one, he could have changed this in 24 hours had he wanted to.”
Nowlin added, “In doing my research, I found any number of people who had already written on the subject of Yawkey’s leadership style — that he hired people he liked, not necessarily people who were effective, and that he found it very difficult to fire anyone. This resulted in a lot of his executive staff not interested in making changes, and Yawkey himself more or less passive in regard to issues like addressing the race issue.
“Had he ever known how it would be looked at years later, I have to believe he would have made a move just in order to prevent the stigma of the Red Sox being the last team to field an African-American ballplayer. It’s not the legacy anyone would want to have. It seems he was ill-served by his lieutenants.
“There’s also the point made by several, that while today it’s easy to look back and say the Red Sox should have led the way, one could equally well point to other businesses in the area. Banking, finance, the medical establishment, academia — none of them were really integrating any faster than the Red Sox.”
Of course, the Red Sox stuck out because they could’ve signed Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays but didn’t. Indeed, Yawkey could have ended the racial stigma associated with the Red Sox, but chose not to.
“I remember he told someone, I believe it was [former Boston Herald columnist] George Sullivan, that he regretted that the Red Sox were the last team to integrate and that he should have done it a lot sooner,” Nowlin said.
Nowlin believes that Yawkey listened to his baseball executives, such as Joe Cronin and Eddie Collins, on a number of issues. When he finally signed Green (he debuted July 21, 1959), after the Yankees and Phillies had integrated and left the Red Sox as the last team, Yawkey treated Green very well, according to Nowlin’s interviews with Green.
Yawkey gave Green a down payment on his home. He offered the same to Smith, but Smith said he didn’t need the money and thanked Yawkey.
Nowlin spent six years researching and writing the book. He went to South Carolina to the Yawkey family’s plantation, where he interviewed people who worked for Yawkey.
“He had a lot of African-American employees. The ones I was able to speak to said he took care of them with medical benefits and paid for their children to go to college,” said Nowlin.
“I was looking for a smoking gun. Not that I had anything against Tom Yawkey, but I just wanted something definitive that he was a racist and could never find it. Everyone seemed to think he was a nice guy. Generous financially with employees. Everybody worshipped him,” Nowlin said.
That Yawkey passed on signing Robinson, Mays, and Sam Jethroe haunts Yawkey’s legacy. But, Nowlin believes, Yawkey was not a racist.
And today, fair or unfair, there’s a movement to rename Yawkey Way.
Stanton has put in the work
Marlins hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo had some interesting comments on the phenomenon that is Giancarlo Stanton, who had hit 44 homers entering the weekend.
When Pagliarulo took the job before the season, he was asked, “How are you going to handle Stanton?”
“We do have some common areas,” said Pagliarulo, a Medford native who spent 11 seasons in the majors. “We both got hit in the face [by a pitch], we both had hamate bones surgically removed. On that scale, we can relate to fear at the plate.
“As far as the other stuff goes, this guy has had a different hitting coach every year, he’s had to put a wall up sort of to protect himself and it’s taken awhile. He does have good relationships with the guys here. And he’s a good guy, a quiet, reserved guy. The one thing he does that’s enabled him to be successful is he’s got a routine. He’s built this confidence around his work and sometimes it doesn’t matter what the work is. If you maintain it, you make it work.”
Aaron Judge may have been MLB’s first-half monster, but Stanton is without question the second-half beast.
“He’s got the loosest hands I’ve ever seen,” Pagliarulo said. “He stands in the box and it looks like he’s not even holding the bat they’re so loose, which makes him quick. He’s got a great swing. Nobody’s perfect, but he’s really made it work. You can pick everybody apart if you want to but the fact is they’re actually throwing baseballs to him over the plate and when he hits them there’s no doubt. He hit one off the end of the bat out of the ballpark in right field the other night. Super strong.”
Pagliarulo added, “I’ll say this, he plays the game the right way. He runs every ball out. He hustles, plays hard in the outfield. Through his routine he’s stayed durable and plays every day. That’s a big body to lug around the field every day.”
“The more I’m with him, the more I think he could be even better than he is now, if you can believe it. He’s got that much talent. He’s learning what he’s capable of and what he’s not capable of, which is what he’s doing now. He’s had to deal with being hit in the face. Some guys don’t come back from that. It’s taken awhile and he’s overcome that. There’s no fear in him now. Last year there might have been. It looked like he flinched a little bit, but that’s gone.”
There’s been talk of teams making a run at Stanton this offseason, including the Phillies, Giants, Mets, and possibly Yankees. The Blue Jays, Cardinals, Braves, Mariners, and Dodgers could also get involved. What about Stanton at Fenway? The Nationals may see Stanton as a cheaper alternative to Bryce Harper, who becomes a free agent after next season.
Stanton does have a full no-trade clause. He’s from Los Angeles, so you figure West Coast teams could be in play.
Apropos of nothing
1. The Red Sox will have an interesting decision to make on utilityman Eduardo Nunez, who’s a free agent after the season. Nunez, 30, has certainly made a difference since being obtained in a trade deadline deal with San Francisco. The Red Sox have seen the best of him, though certainly his production doesn’t match up with his career averages.
Nunez, making $4.2 million in 2017, will likely garner some interest. The Indians also pursued him at the trade deadline. Do the Red Sox try to re-sign him to a multiyear deal? Do they use him as protection in case Dustin Pedroia’s knee injury persists? Would the Sox like to continue carrying two utilitymen in Nunez and Brock Holt, which allows them to carry an extra pitcher? Holt will be arbitration eligible for the first time.
Mitch Moreland and Chris Young will be free agents, taking $12 million off the books.
2. The New York Post’s Kevin Kernan had an interesting take on Derek Jeter as a team owner. Kernan contended that in his conversations with Jeter in the past, the Yankee great said he is not a fan of analytics as the primary tool to evaluate talent. “Everything is about numbers today,” Jeter told Kernan a few years back. “This game is more than numbers, buddy.’’ Kernan wrote, “He went on to point out the value of scouting, the value of allowing a player to think for himself and not becoming a numbers robot.”
3. You question the direction baseball is going when the Twins let such a respected baseball executive like Wayne Krivsky go. Who wouldn’t want that type of talent evaluator in their organization?
4. I’ve been asked whether the Red Sox have to pay all $49.5 million they owe Pablo Sandoval at once. The answer is no. They have to pay him the remainder of this year (about $7.3 million) and then $18.6 million in 2018 and 2019, and a $5 million buyout of his option year in 2020.
The Giants are paying him the prorated minimum, which is deducted from Boston’s obligation.
5. When all is said and done, how much will Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. cost the Red Sox when they head into free agency? Is Betts a five-year, $125 million player? Is Bogaerts a five-year, $100 million player? Is Bradley a five-year, $80 million player?
And then there’s Chris Sale. If he has another great season in 2018, you can bet the house the Red Sox will have to extend him at an exorbitant rate.
Updates on nine
1. Pumpsie Green, former Red Sox — If Yawkey Way is to be renamed, it should bear Green’s name. He was, after all, the first African-American Red Sox player, making his debut July 21, 1959. Green, 83, played four seasons for the Red Sox. He has returned to Boston for events, and has always embraced his significance in Red Sox history.
2. Marco Estrada, RHP, Blue Jays — The Blue Jays have won three of Estrada’s last five starts. He posted a 2.08 ERA during a recent four-start stretch. An AL East team claimed Estrada — either the Orioles or Yankees — but a deal could not be reached and Estrada was pulled back by the Jays.
3. J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles — The veteran will fall short of the 1,150 plate appearances he needed in 2016 and 2017 to see a $14 million option vest for 2018. It appears Hardy will be bought out for $2 million, particularly with the success that Tim Beckham has had with the Orioles since coming over at the trade deadline. Beckham is eligible for arbitration but the Orioles seem pleased with the trade-off.
4. Michael Chavis, 3B, Red Sox — One American League scout thinks the Red Sox did a masterful job in bringing Chavis along this year, allowing him to have success at high Single A before elevating him to Double A, where he’s continued to hit home runs. Chavis entered the weekend with 29 homers, 87 RBIs, and a .955 OPS this season. It’ll be interesting to see if the Red Sox make him a September call-up. He’s at least an intriguing spring training invitee who could rise quickly if he starts at Triple A Pawtucket. With Rafael Devers the Sox’ third baseman of the future, Chavis could see a switch to first base. But Sam Travis is also there. Will the Sox deal one of them to fill another need this offseason?
5. Ben Cherington, VP of baseball operations, Blue Jays — He may take a lot of heat in Boston for signing Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Rusney Castillo, plus the deal for Allen Craig, but look at the 2017 Red Sox. Does Cherington get no credit for the development of Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and Devers, and the young players he didn’t trade away? He also traded Yoenis Cespedes, who didn’t fit in with the Red Sox, to Detroit for Rick Porcello, who won a Cy Young.
6. Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers — Major league sources indicate the Astros aren’t shutting the door completely on Verlander, who cleared waivers. The Astros are obviously in command of the AL West but they entered Friday only 4½ games ahead of Boston for the league’s best record. Houston has always needed starting pitching reinforcement and Verlander is the best available. All the Astros have to do is give up a few prospects and be willing to take on most of the remaining money.
7. Tony Conigliaro, former Red Sox — I have advocated for years the Red Sox retiring No. 25 in honor of Conigliaro, whose career and life were tragically cut short. People who didn’t experience the phenomenon that was Tony C may not understand how much he fascinated and excited an entire generation of Red Sox fans. Whether the Red Sox retire his number or not, as a kid there was nobody bigger in my baseball universe.
8. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers — Gonzalez returned from the disabled list Friday following a lumbar herniated disk. Gonzalez played only 49 games this year before his injury. The Dodgers owe him $22.357 million in 2018, but you wonder if this could be Gonzalez’s last rodeo in LA with Cody Bellinger at first base. The Dodgers could seek to deal the 35-year-old in the offseason if they pick up some of the deal. A healthy Gonzalez might be a good one-year bridge for someone.
9. Rich Hill, LHP, Dodgers — Hill has been on a roll in his last eight starts — 5-0, 2.49 ERA. Hill has thrown his curveball 43.7 percent of the time this season, ranking second in the majors behind Lance McCullers Jr. (53.4 percent). The average is 21.3 percent.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In 109 games, Joey Gallo has whiffed 146 times, but that’s not nearly as interesting as his 35 homers and just 20 singles.” . . . Also, “Before the break, Manny Machado had a .230 BA and a .239 batted balls in play (BABIP). Since the break, he’s hitting .333 with a .331 BABIP.” . . . Happy birthday, Tom Brunansky (57) and Joel Finch (61).
Next weekend (Aug. 25-27) baseball will hold its first Players Weekend, when colorful uniforms will be worn and nicknames can be used on the backs of jerseys. Among Red Sox players who will sport nicknames are Big Smooth (Drew Pomeranz), 2 - Bags (Mitch Moreland), and El Trece (Hanley Ramirez). Try to match the following nicknames to the major league player: