BOSTON (AP/WHDH) — Boston Red Sox owner John Henry is leading an effort to change the name of an iconic street that runs just outside the walls of Fenway Park.
The team confirmed to 7News that Henry hopes to change the name of Yawkey Way because he’s “haunted” by the racist legacy of former owner Tom Yawkey.
Under Yawkey, who owned the club for four decades, the Red Sox were the last team in the major leagues to cross the color barrier while choosing not to sign black players including Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.
“It’s a continuation of John’s strong feelings about tolerance and inclusion and making sure that everyone in Boston and New England feels welcome at Fenway Park,” Red Sox president Sam Kennedy told The Associated Press. “This is just the beginning of a process that will involve the community.”
Henry did not immediately respond to a message from the AP seeking comment.
Yawkey came into his inheritance in 1933 at the age of 30 and promptly bought into the all-white sport of major league baseball.
Then he did what he could to keep it that way.
As other teams abandoned the color barrier, the Red Sox held out, giving Robinson a tryout and scouting Mays but opting to sign neither. The club eventually signed Pumpsie Green as its first black player in 1959 — more than a decade after Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers and after even Willie O’Ree took the ice for the Boston Bruins as the first black player in the NHL.
Yawkey owned the club until his death in 1976, when his wife, Jean, took control. She died and left the ballclub in the care of a foundation that bore their name; trustee John Harrington ran the team until it was sold to Henry and his partners in 2002.
“When we got here in 2002, one of the first things (Henry) did was acknowledge the shameful past in terms of race relations and inclusion,” said Kennedy said.
Still, the team has struggled to accomplish its goal of making Fenway more welcoming to minorities.
In May, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said a fan called him a racist slur ; Kennedy apologized. The same week, a fan was banned from the ballpark for life for using a variant of the N-word while speaking to another fan about the national anthem singer.
Yawkey Way is a public street, therefore the city of Boston would have to approve any name change. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he supports Henry’s desire to change the name, though there has been no discussion on what the name would be changed to.