DATELINE: The Way in Boston
When you say the word “racism,” in Boston, you better smile, pardner.
Yes, the birds of a feather are in a snit over the name change on Jersey Street. It was once called Yawkey Way in honor of the Hall of Fame owner of the Boston Red Sox. He died in 1976, and the city of Boston, found it in its heart to name the little bypass in front of Fenway Park after its Southern gentleman, Tom, who tried to buy a World Series in the 1930s by hiring the best players. He failed.
The Colonel, as it were, in baseball, a game for white gentlemen, as it was once called.
Yes, right in Boston, you had an owner who was never truly part of Boston. He never showed up until after the season started and then sat in his high-above-field box like Nero.
He was instrumental in keeping the Red Sox lily white until Pumpsie Green showed up to sit on the bench for a few seasons. He was used as a pinch-runner most of the time. The Sox were the last team in the majors to sign a black man to play.
Race, if it was in the forefront of that Georgian peach, Yawkey’s mind, was never to advance civil rights of black people. He made Ty Cobb look progressive.
The Yawkey Way is not to be confused with the Patriot Way, under an owner who is the epitome of billionaires in Boston.
Uncle Tom Yawkey kept it white for as long as he could.
We have a memory of attending a Red Sox game in the early 1960s when the only black face we saw in the stands was Bill Russell of the champion Celtics. The Red Sox were never world champs under Yawkey.
When the game ended with another hideous Sox loss, I was behind Russell who was tall, silent, and dignified. Why was he there? Perhaps to see the second black Sox player, pitcher Earl Wilson. That is lost to memory, but Russell was the tallest man leaving the box seats. No one spoke to him, and we walked out of the park—and he went in one direction and I, the other way on then Jersey Street.
Wilson was later traded several weeks after complaining about racism to the Boston media.
We saw Russell at several games over that year, while Yawkey sat high above, looking down. In those days, celebrities did not join Colonel Yawkey in his perch, certainly not a black man.
We think now Russell showed up to make a point: he loved baseball and hated racism. He was the only black face in the crowd.
Imagine: 30,000 seats filled with white fans, and one black man.
And now there is a hulla-baseballoo because Boston wants to dump Yawkey Way in a place where black players were jeered just last season by racial taunts. The present owners want to change the name of Yawkey Way back Jersey Street.
It’s still Yawkey Way, no matter what you call it.