Yawkey Way Is No More – Who is Next?

Who is next?  When the PC Police, embodied as John Henry, asked the Boston Public Improvement Commission to change a street name because he has been “uncomfortable” with the Yawkey Way street sign outside his office window, then who isYawkey Way next?  When we start applying the morals (and I used that term loosely) of today to our own history then no one is in the clear.  Not Tom Yawkey, not George Washington, not Peter Faneuil, not Arthur Fiedler, not John Singleton Copley of Copley Square fame and I would bet every soybean dollar of John Henry’s family farms not his own family either.  Who wants that magnifying glass on their father, grandfather or even their own soul?  John Henry, do you?

Yawkey Way and John Henry’s Fallen Bostonian Park

So Henry is “uncomfortable” with Yawkey Way being Yawkey Way because Tom Yawkey was a racist?  Was he?  I don’t know because I did not know Tom Yawkey.  Then again, neither did John Henry.  I do know he was the owner who integrated last in the major leagues and had few non-white employees.  Let’s just assume that a man born in 1903 probably did have certain opinions about people of any color.  Why?  Because that was pretty much the norm of the day when Tom Yawkey lived.  Segregation was the norm.  Not mixing of the races was the norm.  Not wanting to mix the races was the norm.  Court ordered forced busing in Boston, to deal with the city’s continued segregation in its public schools, did not happen until 1974. Tom Yawkey died in 1976.  Tom Yawkey was loved in this city not because he may have held opinions that today we find “uncomfortable” but because we would not have the Boston Red Sox as a team if Tom Yawkey was not the owner.  He devoted himself and his finances to the Red Sox – in an era when no one wanted the team.  As a bequest in his will, he also established the Yawkey Foundation whose philanthropy goes beyond words.  They did not just give money to “white people” causes, by the way.  Ever think that maybe, just maybe, Tom Yawkey did what we hope all of us do in life?  Maybe just maybe he grew as a person.  Maybe the man of 1956 was not the man of 1976.  Maybe that is why he was mourned by this city.  But before John Henry’s PC Police minions start jumping up and down, I ask, what makes Tom Yawkey so special to John Henry’s PC Police?  Let us take a look at a few other Boston iconic names and places and see how they stand up.

If you walk from Park Street to Fenway, you probably walk through the Public Garden and pass the statue of George Washington, father of our Country.  Well in 2018 you can walk in the Public Garden, the first public botanical garden, but it was fenced for a reason, to keep the commoners out – they were over in the Boston Common, not the pristine Public Garden.  Anyway, even if we are somehow okay with that sectionalism, there is the George Washington statue, our first President riding a horse, as a great welcoming to Boston.  It was unveiled in 1869. A little irony there since the Civil War had ended four years earlier and well, George Washington was a major slave owner in Virginia.  He and his wife Martha owned hundreds of slaves.  Hundreds.  So as father of our country, do we hold him to the standards of today too, and tear down the statue like the hundreds of Lenin statues in Russia?  There is a fallen monument park in Moscow where the statues of hundreds of felled Soviet statues and busts now reside. Maybe John Henry can ask Boston to set aside a piece of the Common, or even better maybe Henry can donate a portion of his own land in Brookline, where we can place all of the felled Bostonian monuments?  We can call it John Henry’s Fallen Bostonian Park.

From Yawkey Way to Copley Square

Speaking of slave-owners, let’s talk about Peter Faneuil.  He both owned and traded slaves.  The money he made as a successful merchant, including of human cargo, paid for Faneuil Hall which he donated to the city of Boston.  As the National Park Service website states, ‘there is some irony to be found in its nickname however, because a portion of the money used to fund ‘The Cradle of Liberty’ came directly from the profits of the slave trade.”  So again, do we now refer to Faneuil Hall as, say, Old Boston Towne Market, because we need to suppress any history that makes us “uncomfortable”.  John Henry, are you on the Old Boston Towne Market name change bandwagon too?

Now Arthur Fiedler is synonymous with the 4th of July.  He brought music to the people, literally, which is why the footbridge and statue near the Hatch Shell is named after him.  He was like all of our grandfathers wrapped into one – a loving man who loved the people.  Fiedler gave us the Pops with its popular, traditional and classical music.  Yet his daughter wrote that he was a terrible father, who drank too much and who caused “wreckage” in their family.  Do we believe her every word?  Do we now see Fiedler as less of a Bostonian because his personal life was not as successful as his professional life?  Do we expect him to be perfect in order for him to be remembered fondly?  If so then we have another statue for John Henry’s Fallen Bostonian Park.

Closer on any walk to Fenway, will bring you to Copley Square.  The square is named for John Singleton Copley, renowned artist.  His square is next to the John Hancock building, which is also a bit ironic since Copley hated Hancock.  You see Copley was a Loyalist, who abhorred the Thirteen Colonies push for independence, also known as the American Revolution — so much so, that Copley sailed from Boston to England in 1774 and never returned.  Copley considered himself British.  Would have loved to have heard Sam Adams sitting in a pub in Colonial Boston verbally brandishing Copley as a traitor to the cause.  So do we now change the name of Copley Square back to the original name of Art Square because Copley never wanted America to be its own independent nation?  Do we ignore his talents as a premier artist, especially his portrait paintings of our Founding Fathers? John Henry, do we remove Copley’s name too to the Fallen Bostonian Park?

How This For Uncomfortable, John Henry?

This all began because John Henry was “uncomfortable” seeing the Yawkey Way street sign out his office window.  I wonder how Henry would fare if the microscope was placed on his life and business interests where every comment and decision is scrutinized ad nauseam.  We could begin by examining Henry’s great grandfather who emigrated from Londonderry, Northern Ireland and farmed in the slave state of Arkansas in the mid-1800s.  In addition, we could look at Henry’s grandfather and father’s soybean business in Arkansas and Illinois and see exactly how many people of color were employed.  We could even evaluate John Henry’s tenure with the Marlins and Red Sox and count the number of African-American, Hispanic, women and LGBTQ workers he had in high paying positions as Chairman and Owner.  No one wants that kind of spotlight, where the complete picture of someone’s life can so easily be lost.

The Yawkey Way sign being removed does not change racism or bring comfort to Boston or anywhere else.  History is not about comfort.  And our history as a city is not easy.  Yet we cannot learn from the past by whitewashing it away from public view like George Orwell in 1984, or because people are “uncomfortable”.  Errors and transgressions are part of our processes, it is how we learn and get better as people.  No human being would pass the perfection test, especially if we start placing the moral compass of today on times gone by.  If that is how we look at our city’s history, then each and every one of us would be relegated to John Henry’s Fallen Bostonian Park. Imagine how “uncomfortable” John Henry would be then.

This article was written by Maura Porter, Editor in Chief, Yawkey Way Report

What Does the Future Hold for Fenway Park?

In its 104th year, Fenway Park looks beautiful. The old charm is still there, mixed with a pleasant blend of modern amenities. This is still one of the most cherished buildings in America, with a meaning that transcends sports. But as a fifth generation enjoys the ballpark on Yawkey Way, what does the future hold for Fenway Park, especially with regard to capacity?

Fenway Park

Since buying the Red Sox in 2001, John Henry and Tom Werner have been tremendous keepers of the flame. They took some time to survey the situation—even kicking the tires on a new stadium—before making a commitment to preserving Fenway Park in 2005. Under their guidance, the park has become integral to the Red Sox’ brand. New seats, scoreboards and facilities have improved the game day experience. In total, ownership has spent over $300 million renovating Fenway, which has stood the test of time.

Is Fenway Park too Small?

Baseball stadiums are becoming bigger and more sophisticated. While certain designs have failed to impress, such as the new Yankee Stadium, others have inspired awe, such as the new Busch Stadium. Even venerable Wrigley Field has finally succumbed to modernity, following the lead of Fenway Park, its ancient rival. But even after extensive restoration, the Boston bandbox is still only capable of seating the sixth-smallest crowd in MLB. That doesn’t mesh well with one of the largest and most loyal fan bases in sports. Almost every game is a sellout, making for an intimate experience; expanding capacity at Fenway Park should be seriously considered moving forward.

Right now, Henry and Werner are doing exactly that with Liverpool, the British soccer club they own. Anfield, their home stadium, has a great tradition within that sport, similar to Fenway. Nevertheless, ownership has begun work to expand capacity from 45,500 to 59,000. The first phase will be completed this summer, as a new grandstand is assembled. Perhaps if that proves to be successful, Henry and Werner could look to implement a similar vision at the 37,949 seat Fenway Park.

The Future of Fenway Park

Of course, its impossible to debate the future of Fenway without first invoking its past. This is a sacred ballpark that will be defended vehemently by traditionalist who oppose all but necessary alterations. I understand and respect that. Fenway Park has a unique place in the history of sports that should never be damaged. Yet if the park can be improved to further fit the modern world, I’m incredibly supportive of that, too. For instance, I’d love to see another tier added to Fenway This would allow the Red Sox to reap commercial benefits and more fans to enjoy a contemporary stadium experience if they so choose. Those additions need not replace the rustic charisma and history of Fenway Park. They would merely compliment it, and help the ballpark remain relevant well into another century.

In 2011, when the main bulk of renovations were completed, ownership suggested that Fenway could stand for another fifty years. That’s great news that should be welcomed by fans who’ve mourned the loss of so many beloved ballparks down the years. However, in a world of improving technology and growing expectations, it would be irresponsible to ignore possible ways of making the ballpark fit for purpose in those decades ahead. Expanding capacity and providing more modern infrastructure in addition to the historic foundations is one area to possibly explore, as Fenway reaches a crossroads.

Relying Less on Analytics Will Benefit Players Like Bradley Jr.

John Henry’s recent comments about the team’s reliance of analytics came as a shock to many, especially since the team has employed Bill James since 2003, the father of saber metrics who was made famous by the book Moneyball and its subsequent film.
analytics
The Boston Sunday Globe quoted one scout who, after hearing Henry’s declaration said, “Finally, someone who realizes that human beings play the game, not numbers…” While in many cases analytics has proven to be a very useful tool that owners have used to build championship teams, focusing less on the numbers could bode well for players like Jackie Bradley Jr., whose own numbers do not capture his talent and potential.

Many saw Bradley Jr.’s performance in the 2014 and 2015 seasons as promising but inconsistent. But if you set his numbers aside for a minute, you see a 2014 Gold Glove nomination. In fact, Bradley Jr.’s defense led Red Sox great Bill Lee to say in August 2015 that he reminded him of Willie Mays from the waist down. That same month, Bradley Jr. became one of only eight players to accumulate five extra-base hits in one game. In a match against the Seattle Mariners, Bradley Jr. hit two home runs and three doubles in six at bats as the Red Sox won 22-10. So does Bradley Jr.’s 2015 .249 batting average represent his abilities? I think not. Now that the Red Sox are taking a step back from analytics, there will be opportunities for people to focus more on what qualities Bradley Jr. does posses that can’t be categorized using analytics. This step back will be good for other players like Brock Holt and Rusney Castillo, players whose true potential may be unfairly overshadowed by analytics.

Should We Toss Analytics Aside Altogether?

I’m not saying that analytics should be completely discarded. After all, it played a role in the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 after an eighty-six year drought. But focus on numbers, statistics, and projections has done a lot to drain the humanity and excitement out of the game. When I see Bradley Jr. take the field next season, I won’t be thinking about the previous season’s batting average, or what Bill James’ thinks his batting average will be. I’ll be thinking about whether I’ll be lucky enough to see Bradley Jr. make an outstanding defensive play.

Analytics remind me of a story about my time in graduate school. One of my professors told me that the best indication of how well a student will do in graduate school, is to see how well they actually do in graduate school. In other words grades, GPA, and test scores can only do so much to predict how someone will do. Seeing how they actually do in a graduate class is the true indicator of someone’s abilities. With that said, we should follow John Henry’s lead and step back from analytics so that we can focus more on what we see on the field, instead of what we read in a statistical analysis. After all, it’s possible that Bradley Jr.’s performance this upcoming season could blow the lid off any predictions anyone’s made using analytics.

Larry Lucchino out as CEO

It’s official: according to the Boston Herald, Larry Lucchino will be out as president and CEO of the Red Sox after the 2015 season comes to a close, in what might be a sign of things to come.

Per the Boston Herald, Sam Kennedy, a Brookline native and current executive vice Larry Lucchinopresident and chief operating officer, will take over at the end of the season, although the transition has started to take effect. Sam Kennedy spoke to the Herald, saying that he is ready to embrace this opportunity and the responsibilities that come with it. He also thanked Larry Lucchino for mentoring him, and John Henry and Tom Werner for selecting him, according to the Herald.

It will be curious to see how this will affect this club, philosophy-wise, but there is no doubt that he left his mark. During his tenure, the Red Sox won 3 World Series titles, as well as posting the longest sellout streak in pro sports history. It also might be a sign of other major transitions coming, after the Red Sox are vastly under-performing for a second straight season.

As of right now, the Red Sox sit 11 games under .500, and 12 games behind the division leaders, the New York Yankees. And, unless something changes, that means they’ll finish last for a second straight year, so you have to wonder who else might be next. While the Herald reports that ownership wants to keep Larry Lucchino on in some executive capacity, it seems like this could be one step towards making changes after the season finishes.

This is just speculation, but I know I’m not alone in saying I’m pretty frustrated with the losing these past couple of season, and while Lucchino played his part in bringing a winning tradition back to Boston, I think the time was right for this to happen now, since the team is staring a possible second straight last place finish in the face at the moment, and the time is right to start thinking about some major changes. I could be wrong about this, but we’ll just have to see.

The Red Sox are Losing at the Worst Possible Time

In a season of perpetual disappointment, the Red Sox chose the worst possible time to embark on a long losing streak. Just as momentum was building, and fans began to see a glimmer of light, Boston lost two of three to New York prior to the All-Star Game, before stumbling to five straight defeats to start the second half.

All told, John Farell’s hapless team has lost six consecutive games, falling back to 42-52,Red Sox ten games adrift of the division-leading Yankees. Cautiously optimistic just two weeks ago, the Red Sox now have the worst record in the American League. This latest slump may be terminal.

The $166m Sox have been outscored 29-7 in their last five games. In fact, Boston’s -66 run differential on the season is third-worst in baseball, behind only the woeful Phillies and spluttering White Sox. Such a stat is emblematic of the Red Sox’ struggles, and obviously descriptive of a painfully unbalanced baseball team.

However, at this point, it’s difficult to see Ben Cherington making any moves to improve his lopsided roster. According to Fangraphs, the Red Sox have just a 2.1% chance of winning the AL East, while the likelihood of securing a Wildcard spot rests at 5.7%. For a front office that adores statistical analysis, those are particularly damning numbers. And, no matter how frustrated Red Sox Nation becomes, this hierarchy simply won’t mortgage the future to acquire a player who, at best, will enhance their chances of reaching a sudden-death Wildcard playoff from practically impossible to not gonna happen.

Now, the more likely scenario is the Red Sox selling off any excess big league pieces. At this point, Boston can only hope to retool and begin planning for 2016. Despite chronic batting average problems, Mike Napoli may interest a team hungry for power. Similarly, Shane Victorino may pique the interest of a contender searching for speed and experience atop its batting order. Even Koji Uehara may be dangled, tempting innumerable teams looking for bullpen help.

In the bigger picture, perhaps moving these ageing players would be beneficial to the Red Sox, who could finally grant extended playing time to Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr and Allen Craig, evaluating once and for all what those players actually are, and where they actually fit moving forward.

Yet, even this may be troublesome. It remains to be seen whether Ben Cherington has the energy and wherewithal to blow up his roster for the third time in four seasons as Red Sox GM. More to the point, will John Henry allow him to do so, and risk the crown jewel of his business empire becoming synonymous with failure, false dawns and fire sales?

Regardless of the next step, the Red Sox once again find themselves in a sorry state. Once again, this team appears dead before August has even arrived. And, amid an ocean of statistics and records speaking to this team’s wide-reaching ineptitude, that may be the most resounding reality of all.

The Red Sox Are In Crisis

Following a 10-19 May which dumped them deep into the American League cellar, there’s a Red Sox crisis brewing. At this point, with Boston possessing the fifth-worst record in all of baseball, we’re looking at something much more worrying than a simple slow start; something much more serious than a sporadic under-performance. Quite honestly, we’re looking at fifty-one games of unspeakably bad baseball, and, stretching back to last season, eighteen months of abject failure on the part of management to build a team befitting Red Sox tradition. Ultimately, we’re looking at an institutional crisis on Yawkey Way.

Just take a look at the current roster. For a team that cost $184 million to assemble, the Red SoxRed Sox have a disproportionate share of defects and inefficiencies. Hanley Ramirez is signed through 2018, but his defense is so bad as to be nearly unplayable; Rusney Castillo is a raw neophyte being paid like a proven superstar; and prospects such as Blake Swihart and Xander Boagerts have either been grossly over-hyped or severely rushed on the road to Boston. Meanwhile, David Ortiz is lost at the plate, Koji Uehara is showing signs of age, and not a single hitter seems capable of producing with runners in scoring position. As for the starting rotation? Well, there’s not enough ink in my pen to discuss that again.

But, if this Red Sox team seems bad on paper, it’s even worse on the field. Boston currently ranks 23rd in the Majors in runs scored, 25th in slugging percentage, 26th in WHIP and 28th in ERA, despite possessing the third largest payroll. The Sox were recently swept by the Twins, before losing three of four to the Rangers in Texas, including some of the sloppiest baseball I’ve ever seen from a Boston team. In fact, the Rangers series, capped by Josh Hamilton’s walk-off heroics, felt like a new nadir for the Red Sox; a nadir that certain members of team management were fortunate to survive.

Which brings us to General Manager Ben Cherington, who, after years of poor decision-making, is really starting to feel the pressure in Boston. Admittedly, his work in constructing the 2013 Red Sox was legendary, but hitting on so many successful free agent signings in one winter looks to have been an aberration, when judged in the context of his other work.

Red SoxSince November 2013, for instance, the Red Sox’ moves have been terrible. They let Jacoby Ellsbury sign with the Yankees, and attempted to replace him with Grady Sizemore. They failed to pay Jon Lester his true market worth, and watched him join the Cubs. And, following a dismal 71-91 showing in 2014, they invested astronomical sums of money in decidedly shaky investments, such as Castillo, Uehara, Pablo Sandoval and Ramirez, who is already breaking down two months into a four-year deal. Pitching, concurrently, has been sorry afterthought in recent years, with Clay Buchholz becoming the ace of a team whose General Manager is struggling with the magnitude of his position.

Ultimately, there’s a panicked transience to everything the Red Sox are doing nowadays, whereas the mid-2000s dynasty we all so fondly recall was built with calm intelligence. Basically, after years of trying, Ben Cherington has failed to succeed Theo Epstein in honing a Boston baseball juggernaut. Accordingly, as the Red Sox crisis deepens and October baseball fades further from view, it may finally be time for John Henry to clear the decks and get back to basics.