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Another View -- Michael Moffett: Yawkey should be judged within context of his time

August 22. 2017 10:07PM
Is the legacy of former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, left, tarnished, as current owner John Henry, right, insists? (FILE)

Boston Red Sox owner John Henry wants to rename a street adjacent to Fenway Park. The thoroughfare is Yawkey Way, named for Thomas Austin Yawkey, who owned the Red Sox from 1934-76. His wife Jean remained part of ownership until 1992.

So John Henry, does your antipathy for Tom Yawkey — due to his southern roots and supposed biases — extend to Jean as well?

A preening, judgmental, morally-superior liberal who has sent many hundreds of thousands of dollars to “progressive” causes, Henry is a self-appointed moral arbiter who uses his position to denigrate historical legacies that need to be considered within the context of their times.

The conventional wisdom is that because Yawkey was a racist southerner the Red Sox were the last MLB team to play an African-American, (Pumpsie Green in 1959.)

Is that fair? In all humility, I don’t know. I do wish the BoSox would have signed Jackie Robinson after his 1946 Fenway Park tryout. Clearly, local prejudices worked against Robinson playing in Boston. A shame.

The Red Sox went pennantless for 20 years after Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. The conventional wisdom blames Yawkey’s racism. But the next-to-last team to integrate — the Yankees — won 15 pennants during those 20 years. Go figure.

Henry is perhaps inspired by all the energy generated by the Confederate monument issue. I’m no fan of the Confederacy, but as a history guy, I’m disturbed by attempts to steamroll parts of our past into dust. Where might it end?

Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders. The many monuments and edifices in their honor presumably need to be steamrolled as well. I mean, if Tom Yawkey was bad, then these guys were REALLY bad. Right, John Henry?

Winston Churchill is considered by many to be the “Man of the 20th Century,” who stood tall against Hitler, etc. But if you read some of his comments about people of color, you’d cringe. He also opposed women’s suffrage. So his statues need to go away as well. Right, John Henry?

There’s a statue of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce, our 14th President, in front of our State House. A northern man with southern principles, Pierce was a great friend of Jefferson Davis, who became Confederate President. Many historians blame Pierce’s pro-south positions for setting the stage for the Civil War. And Pierce was also a general in the racist and expansionist Mexican War. His statue should probably go away as well. Right, John Henry?

The point is that people should be judged within the context of their times and their environments. Churchill was born during the Victorian Era. Yawkey was born in a place where segregation was the reality. Neither came out of the womb with our enlightened 21st century values — as John Henry apparently did.

Recent policy briefs by university professors seek to sanction decisions by school officials to ban Confederate symbols. It’s a political trap. If one stands up for free speech and the First Amendment, then one is a racist. But why are T-shirts with Confederate symbols non grata, but T-shirts with a murdering, Marxist, American-hating terrorist like Che Guevera OK?

University professors, please explain.

John Henry?

Yawkey bought the Red Sox in 1933, a team that had lost 111 games the previous year, and a team that had finished last almost every year since 1920. He invested in the club and kept them in Boston, much as Bob Kraft did with the Patriots and as Walter Brown did with the Celtics. More than anyone else, he’s responsible for the phenomenon known as Red Sox Nation.

Check out who played for Yawkey’s 1967 Impossible Dream American League Champions. The roster included Galen Cisco, Joe Foy, Tony Horton, Elston Howard, Jose Santiago, George Scott, Reggie Smith, Jose Tartabull and John Wyatt.

All African-Americans and Latinos. Photos show Yawkey embracing them.

John Henry?

A sports columnist and professor of sports management, Michael Moffett is a retired Marine Corps officer and state representative.

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