Manager John Farrell said he doesn’t know much about Red Sox former owner Tom Yawkey, but he knows the current owner well enough to trust his opinion.
If John Henry wants to rename Yawkey Way, Farrell is on board.
“I guess the only thing I can say about it is, fully support what John Henry and our ownership group is trying to do,” Farrell said. “This is well beyond our day-to-day at field level, but there have been so many efforts to pay attention to our social needs in our community, in the city of Boston. Our ownership does a great job of trying to create an atmosphere of inclusion, and take very intangible and active steps to do that.”
Henry told the Herald on Thursday that he feels “haunted” by Yawkey’s legacy of racial exclusion, so much so that he wants to lead an effort to rename the street just outside Fenway Park’s front door.
Farrell did not speak in such absolutes – said he didn’t know the issue well enough to do so – but he acknowledged a general awareness that Yawkey’s story comes with significant faults.
“You know, I can’t speak for what Tom Yawkey was about,” Farrell said. “I’m well aware of the philanthropy that he and his family and his foundation have given to many area hospitals, many area organizations. So, he was a very positive person in that regard.
“But as far as the downside, or maybe the side that’s not perceived as positively. I don’t know what that entailed or what that was involved with. But there’s a history there of it. And I think that’s where John Henry and our ownership group is trying to do what they feel is right and support what their decisions are in terms of being that positive bridge in our community.
“When you look at what our foundation and the Red Sox have stood for under this ownership group, and what they’ve attempted to do, it’s nothing short of extremely impressive because of all the positive effects that they have made.”
Yawkey owned the Red Sox from 1933 until his death in 1976. His widow Jean Yawkey followed him, and then the Yawkey Trust until Henry purchased the team in 2002.
Yawkey was a noted philanthropist, and the foundation that bears his name continues to serve the community, but his ownership tenure was notable for the Red Sox being the last team in baseball to integrate in 1959, a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Yawkey had opportunities to sign Robinson and Willie Mays but passed.
While it’s well-known that the Red Sox were the last team to have a black player, Farrell said he’s never heard that issue discussed in the clubhouse.
“I think players are so focused on what they’ve got to do on the field,” he said. “I can’t speak for all of them, but I’m sure there’s maybe some awareness of what the history has been. But to the point of it being a conversation point, I haven’t heard that.”
Two prominent Red Sox seemed to confirm that point of view.
“I’m just here to play baseball,” Andrew Benintendi said. “So, I’ll just do that.”
Said Mookie Betts: “I don’t know much about the Yawkey family. I do know that our front office, Sam Kennedy and those guys, do a great job making Fenway a place where everybody’s welcome. So, I support everything they do at this point.”
Ultimately, the decision to rename the street rests with the city of Boston (though mayor Marty Walsh indicated he supports the change). All the Red Sox ownership can do is state a preference.