Where Did The Collins and Yawkey Plaques Go?

The Boston Red Sox made headlines last spring when they successfully lobbied the City of Boston to change the name of Yawkey Way back to Jersey Street. Boston initially changed it to Yawkey Way in honor of the Red Sox’s longtime owner Tom Yawkey, who died in 1976. The Boston Red Sox’s long and turbulent history with race relations under Yawkey partially prompted the name change request. However, many fans have noticed that the commemorative plaques honoring Eddie Collins and Tom Yawkey that once hung outside Fenway Parka are also gone. So where did the Collins and Yawkey plaques go?

The Boston Red Sox were the last team to integrate in 1959 when Pumpsie Green madeyawkey plaques his debut. In preceding years the Red Sox had a chance to sign future Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, but for one reason or another, decided to pass. This reluctance to sign these legends contributed to the Red Sox’s turbulent history with race relations.

Collins and Yawkey Plaques Are Still A Reminder Of A Bad Past

Despite earlier claims, I now believe that changing Yawkey Way back to Jersey Street was a smart idea. I initially didn’t think it was fair to remove Yawkey’s name since there’s no evidence that he was personally racist. However, he was the sole owner for many years. Yawkey could have easily integrated the team, but he chose not to. Furthermore, we’re living in a time now where nationalism is fueling an increase in white supremacist activity throughout the United States, so I get why the Red Sox would want to distance themselves as far away as possible from Yawkey’s legacy. No matter how you look at it, it’s not a good look. With that said, I’m not necessarily sorry to see the plaques go. Keeping the plaques there would be awkward as the Red Sox push for more diversity in sports. But where did the plaques go?

Where Did The Collins and Yawkey Plaques Go?

The plaques just sort of disappeared. Numerous inquiries by reporters to the Red Sox have yielded no answers as to the plaques’ whereabouts. According to a Boston Globe article, The Yawkey Foundations, which strongly protested the name change, requested both the street signs and plaques hanging inside the stadium that honor Tom and Jean Yawkey.

Jack Sullivan, a reporter for CommonWealth Magazine who wrote about the missing plaques, told me via email that “My understanding is the Yawkey Foundation got his plaque and the Eddie Collins plaque is in storage at Fenway.”

Was it a good idea to get rid of the Collins and Yawkey plaques?

Probably. It only makes sense to stay consistent, especially when the plaques were on what is now Jersey Street. But I am concerned that the Red Sox aren’t being considerate of Yawkey’s legacy as a philanthropist. His foundations have given more than $450 million to various charities since 1977. This fact makes me feel as though the Red Sox are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The Red Sox Fumbled In Their Push To Rename Yawkey Way

The City of Boston announced last Thursday that Yawkey Way will revert back to its original name, Jersey Street. Debate over renaming Yawkey Way has raged for years over allegations that former owner Tom Yawkey was a racist. Despite successfully petitioning the city to rename the street, the Red Sox fumbled in their push to rename Yawkey Way

From a public relations perspective, I can understand current team owner John Henry’s concerns.red sox fumbled  We’re living in a time where Confederate statues are coming down throughout the south because of the ideas they symbolize. Fearing a similar backlash, Henry likely worried about what might happen if he didn’t take an official position on Yawkey. But Yawkey Way is different from a Confederate statue. The Confederate soldiers memorialized in statues throughout the south openly rebelled against the United States. Most of them supported slavery. In most cases it makes sense to take them down (unless they’re in a cemetery, that’s a different context). Failing to recognize the difference between a statue and a street sign though clearly reflects how the Red Sox fumbled this issue.

The Red Sox Relied on Falsities

The Red Sox fumbled their reasoning on this issue for a few reasons. They relied on ambiguous perceptions about Yawkey’s alleged racism, much of which has since been debunked. For example, one of the many stories about Yawkey stems from Jackie Robinson’s tryout at Fenway Park in 1945. Clif Keane, a sportswriter for The Boston Globe, claimed that either Yawkey, Joe Cronin, or Eddie Collins yelled “Get those niggers off the field!” during the tryout. Red Sox historian Glenn Stout disputes that story. “A lot of people don’t give that [story] the greatest credibility,” Stout’s quoted as saying in Bill Nowlin’s biography of Tom Yawkey. In fact, Boston Globe writer John Powers stated in 2014 that Keane might have made it up.

This isn’t to say that Yawkey was an angel. Yawkey presided over the Red Sox when they became the last team to integrate in 1959. Pinky Higgins, the Red Sox manager from 1955-1959, and 1960-1962, was vocal about his views on African Americans. In his book, What’s the Matter with the Red Sox? Boston baseball writer Al Hirshberg quoted Higgins as saying, “There’ll be no niggers on this ball club as long as I have anything to say about it.” Higgins certainly played a role in the Red Sox reluctance to integrate. As the team owner, Yawkey was responsible for retaining Higgins as an employee for as long as he did. John Henry should have cited that idea in pushing for the name change. In fact, I’m going to take the liberty of drafting the press release they should have written.

This Statement Should Have Been the Red Sox’s Official Press Release

Tom Yawkey presided over the Boston Red Sox during a time of tremendous growth. The personal and financial contributions he made helped transform the team into one of the best in baseball history. His kindness, generosity, and devotion to the Red Sox and the City of Boston will always be remembered and respected. However, Yawkey also presided over the Red Sox during a time when Major League Baseball was working towards becoming more inclusive and diverse. The lack of progress the Red Sox made towards equal rights during Yawkey’s tenure weighs heavily on John Henry and other members of the Red Sox community. While Yawkey’s role in the history of the City of Boston and the Red Sox will always be held in high esteem, his reluctance to be more proactive on matters of race contradict the Red Sox’s current mission to promote diversity and inclusion. As a result, the Red Sox formally request that the City of Boston change the name of Yawkey Way back to its original designation of Jersey Street. This gesture should show the City of Boston that the Red Sox are dedicated to making Fenway Park a welcoming environment for all.

This statement acknowledges Yawkey’s contributions to the team and the city while also recognizing his faults. Yawkey didn’t recognize the cancerous effect Pinky Higgins had on the Red Sox. That’s his fault. But simply put, the crime doesn’t fit the punishment.

The Red Sox Fumbled a Chance to Preserve Relations with the Yawkey Foundations

In response to the name change, The Yawkey Foundations stated that, “The drastic step of renaming the street, now officially sanctioned by the city of Boston (and contradicting the honor the city bestowed upon Tom Yawkey over 40 years ago), will unfortunately give lasting credence to that narrative and unfairly tarnish his name.” It’s difficult to imagine that the Red Sox didn’t consider what effect their push to rename Yawkey Way would have on the Yawkey Foundations. The Red Sox’s decision to push for the name change effectively makes the Yawkey Foundations guilty by association.

The Red Sox fumbled the entire Yawkey Way controversy. They relied on a false narrative that many historians wouldn’t give much credibility to (and don’t). What makes their error particularly egregious is how undiplomatic their efforts to rename Yawkey Way were. The Red Sox embarrassed themselves by using unreliable information about Yawkey. More importantly though, their failure to recognize Yawkey’s contributions and failures turned this controversy into a binary issue. There’s already too much divide in America. The way the Red Sox fumbled this issue only adds to that divide.