Tom Yawkey

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Tom Yawkey
Tom Yawkey NYWTS.jpg
Tom Yawkey with his first wife Elise Sparrow Yawkey in 1938
Born: Thomas Yawkey Austin
(1903-02-21)February 21, 1903
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died: July 9, 1976(1976-07-09) (aged 73)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Member of the National
Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg
Induction 1980
Election MethodVeterans Committee

Thomas Austin Yawkey, born Thomas Yawkey Austin (February 21, 1903 – July 9, 1976), was an American industrialist and Major League Baseball executive. Born in Detroit, Yawkey became president of the Boston Red Sox in 1933 and was the sole owner of the team for 44 seasons, longer than anyone else in baseball history. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. In 2018, the Red Sox publicly distanced themselves from Yawkey, due to allegations of racism and resistance to baseball's integration. [1]


Early life

Yawkey, c. 1919 Tom Yawkey circa 1919.jpeg
Yawkey, c. 1919

Yawkey was born in Detroit on February 21, 1903 to insurance executive Thomas J. Austin and his wife Augusta. Augusta was the eldest child of William Clyman Yawkey, who had become wealthy in the lumber and iron ore industries of the Midwestern United States. [2] In addition to these interests, William Clyman Yawkey had agreed in principle to buy the Detroit Tigers baseball team in 1903, but he died before the deal closed. His son, William H. "Bill" Yawkey, eventually completed the purchase, though the younger Yawkey had little interest in the team and allowed team executive Frank Navin to control day-to-day operations and eventually purchase part of the team. [3]

Shortly after Tom Yawkey's birth, his father, Thomas J. Austin, died. [4] Tom, his mother, and his sister later went to live with Tom's uncle Bill Yawkey in New York City. After his mother died in 1918, Bill Yawkey and his wife adopted him, and he took the Yawkey name. [2]

Bill Yawkey died in 1919 and left his $40 million estate to his adopted son Tom, [5] but a clause in the will forbade him from taking possession of it until he turned 30 years old. Tom Yawkey was a graduate of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University in 1925 [2] and was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. [6]

Boston Red Sox

On February 25, 1933, four days after his 30th birthday, Yawkey bought the Red Sox for $1.25 million, and persuaded friend and former Philadelphia Athletics second baseman Eddie Collins to be the team's vice president and general manager. [2]

The Red Sox had been the dregs of the American League for more than a decade following the infamous Babe Ruth sale to the New York Yankees by former owner Harry Frazee before the 1920 season, [7] and had just finished the 1932 season with a record of 43–111 (.279)—still the worst in franchise history. [8] Yawkey directed Collins to buy up as much talent as possible to turn the team around. [9] He also heavily renovated Fenway Park, which had fallen into disrepair over the years. [10]

Yawkey devoted his time and finances for the rest of his life to attempting to build winning teams, [2] with The Boston Globe citing Yawkey's estimation in 1974 that he lost $10 million on the team during his tenure owning the Red Sox. [11] His teams' best seasons took place in 1946, 1967, and 1975, when the Red Sox captured the American League pennant but then went on to lose each World Series in seven games, against the St. Louis Cardinals (1946, 1967) and the Cincinnati Reds (1975). He would never achieve his ultimate goal of winning a world championship. [8]

Criticism and controversies

The resistance to signing black players by the Red Sox, who were the last major league team to integrate, has led to assertions of Yawkey being racist. [12] The Red Sox had multiple black players in their farm system during the 1950s, with the team failing to promote them despite the successes other teams realized after integrating black players. [13] During this period, the Red Sox went from perennial contender to failing to finish within ten games of first place for 16 years (1951–1966). [8] As owner of the Boston Red Sox, the team's policy on integration ultimately was Yawkey's responsibility. [14] In 1959, the Red Sox became the last major league team to field a black player, Pumpsie Green, twelve years after Jackie Robinson's rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers and two-and-a-half years after Robinson's retirement. Robinson would later call Yawkey "one of the most bigoted guys in baseball". [12]

Another controversy involved longtime clubhouse attendant Donald Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was accused of sexual abuse of minors between 1971 and 1991 while working in the Red Sox spring training clubhouse in Winter Haven, Florida. [15] The abuse was reported to the team by victims and players who witnessed it, but Fitzpatrick remained employed. [15] Yawkey, and later his wife Jean after Tom's death, protected Fitzpatrick from the allegations, according to two sources with knowledge of their relationship. [15] During Fitzpatrick's time in the organization, Red Sox players allegedly warned young boys, especially those who were African-American, to not spend time with Fitzpatrick. [15] Fitzpatrick would continue as Red Sox clubhouse attendant for 15 years after Tom Yawkey’s death. [15]  

In 1991, Fitzpatrick ended his role in the organization after a man brought a sign to a game in Anaheim, California, that read “Donald Fitzpatrick Sexually Assaulted Me”. [15] The man, whose identity is unknown to this day, held the sign over the Red Sox dugout as batting practice was ending. [15] Four days after the incident, Fitzpatrick departed from the organization and never rejoined the team in any capacity. [15]

In 2001, seven former Red Sox clubhouse attendants sued the organization for $3.15 million over Fitzpatrick’s alleged sexual abuse. [16] After John W. Henry and his partners bought the team in 2002, they took on all aspects of the Boston Red Sox, which included this lawsuit. [16] The new ownership group ended the lawsuit by settling with Fitzpatrick’s alleged victims. [16] They paid these seven alleged victims of Fitzpatrick in a multi-million dollar settlement. [16]

In 2002, Fitzpatrick pleaded guilty after being charged with four counts of attempted sexual battery for actions between 1975 and 1989. [15] As part of the plea deal, the 72-year-old Fitzpatrick would not have to serve jail time. [15] He was given a 10-year suspended sentence and 15 years of probation. [15] Fitzpatrick was never sent to prison during this sentence and died in 2005 at the age of 76. [16]


Fenway Park main entrance on the then Yawkey Way in 2007 Fenway Park01.jpg
Fenway Park main entrance on the then Yawkey Way in 2007

Yawkey was a popular figure in Boston and a respected voice in major league councils, as evidenced [2] by his fellow American League owners naming him vice president between 1956 and 1973, [17] though fellow owners regarded him as a "strange fish" in the words of one contemporary sports writer for Yawkey's willingness to spend lavishly on salaries and perks for star players at the expense of profits. [18]

Yawkey died from leukemia in Boston on July 9, 1976. [2] His wife, Jean R. Yawkey, became president of the club following his death. The Yawkey Foundation was established in 1976 through a bequest in his will. The foundation later recorded $420 million in 2002 income after the sale of the Red Sox. Alongside a second foundation formed in 1982 by Jean Yawkey, the Yawkey Foundations donated $30 million in 2007 for the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute to build the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care in Boston. [2]

In 1977, the section of Jersey Street where Fenway Park is located was renamed Yawkey Way in his honor. However, in August 2017, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry announced the team was seeking to change the name, adding he was "haunted" by Yawkey's legacy, which some have characterized as racist. [19] The change was approved by the City of Boston in April 2018, and the name reverted to Jersey Street in May 2018. [20] A plaque honoring Yawkey, from "his Red Sox employees," that had hung at the administrative office entrance to Fenway Park since shortly after his death was removed in May 2018. [21] An MBTA Commuter Rail station near the park, Yawkey station, was renamed Lansdowne station in April 2019. [22]

A chain of islands off the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina, near the entrance of Winyah Bay, make up the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve. The nature preserve was formed from 24,000 acres (9,700 ha) of land along a tidal estuary, which Yawkey willed to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. He originally purchased the land for use as a hunting and fishing retreat, and often allowed access to Red Sox players, including Ted Williams. [23] It consists of North Island, South Island, Sand Island [24] and a majority of Cat Island. [25]

Yawkey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. [26]

Personal life

Yawkey married Elise Sparrow in 1925, [27] with the couple adopting a daughter named Julia in 1936. With different interests, the couple would drift apart and divorce in November 1944. Both remarried within a few weeks of the divorce, Tom Yawkey to department store model Jean R. Hiller. Tom and Jean Yawkey had no children. [2] Yawkey's only sibling, his sister Emma, died in December 1963. [28]

Yawkey's friends addressed him as "T.A."; he was fond of taking batting practice at Fenway Park, exulting when hitting a ball off the Green Monster left field wall. [11]

The only full-length biography of Yawkey is entitled Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox. It was written by Bill Nowlin and was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2018. [29]

See also

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  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Armour, Mark. "Tom Yawkey". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved January 14, 2017.
  3. "Frank Navin | Society for American Baseball Research". Retrieved 2019-06-28.
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  14. Bryant, Howard (September 2, 2003). Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston . Beacon Press. p. 40. ISBN   978-0807009796.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Passan, Jeff (November 10, 2011). "From Another Era And Another Sport, A Sex Abuse Scandal Still Inflicting Pain Today". ThePostGame.
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  19. "'Haunted' by past owner's history, Red Sox seek name change for Yawkey Way". Boston Herald. August 18, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
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  21. Sullivan, Jack (May 21, 2018). "A missing pair of Sox". CommonWealth . Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  22. "The MBTA is renaming Yawkey Station after another nearby street". . Boston Globe. March 29, 2019. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  23. "Link to 'a jewel'". The Post & Courier. December 21, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2017.
  25. "Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center". Audubon. Retrieved January 14, 2017.
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  29. Montville, Leigh (February 2, 2018). "Review: 'Tom Yawkey' and the Red Sox' 'Original Sin'". The Wall Street Journal . Boston was an all-white ball club until 1959—12 years after Jackie Robinson became a Dodger.

Further reading

Preceded by
J. A. Robert Quinn
Owner of the Boston Red Sox
February 25, 1933 – July 9, 1976
Succeeded by
Jean R. Yawkey