Yawkey Way — a Boston street name that recently has been the subject of much debate — won’t be getting renamed any time soon if John Harrington has his way.
The former Red Sox president told the Boston Herald Wednesday night that he’s escalating his plea to the city and team ownership that the road outside Fenway Park maintain its long-established name. Harrington, who wrote a letter defending the organization’s controversial history, said that he’s received an overwhelming amount of support in response to his arguments.
“I was worried people might not read it, but I’ve received tons of feedback,” he told the Herald‘s Joe Dwinell. “People are apparently hearing the other side of the Jackie Robinson story.”
In his three-page letter, Harrington defends former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who has been lambasted by many for his minimal integration efforts in the 1950’s. More than a decade after Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier, Boston was the last team in the league to call up a black player in 1959. Critics also say that Yawkey shouted a racial slur at Robinson, as well as two other Negro League players, during their tryout at Fenway Park.
While Harrington acknowledged that the speed at which the Red Sox integrated was “regrettable,” he also says that Yawkey wasn’t even in Boston at the time of Robinson’s tryout in April 1945, making it impossible for the story about him yelling insults to be true. In fact, Harrington says that Yawkey would often ask in meetings why the team didn’t have “more black ballplayers.”
“Proponents of the name change have led a campaign marked by factually inaccurate statements,” he wrote in his letter, which emphasized how Yawkey “treated every player the same, regardless of their race.”
Although members of the fan base have expressed their agreement with Harrington’s opinion, the former team executive has yet to hear from current principal owner John Henry.
“My hope is he will change his mind,” Harrington told Dwinell. “I hope this letter will have an impact.”
In August, Henry announced that he wanted the Red Sox to “lead the effort” in renaming the stretch outside the third base line. In an email interview with the Herald, he wrote:
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.