The home address for the Red Sox might change soon.
In a statement in the thick of the debate over honoring Confederates, Red Sox owner John Henry said he and the team would try to rename the street outside Fenway Park – currently Yawkey Way in honor of Tom Yawkey, who owned the team from 1933 to 1976.
In that time, the Red Sox won three pennants and no World Series. The best teams, of the late 1940s, made one World Series appearance in 1946, lost a single-game playoff to the Indians in 1948, and lost the pennant on the last day of the season to the Yankees in 1949 and 1950.
Yawkey was well-regarded by his players, but on his watch, the Red Sox were the last team to integrate, with Pumpsie Green in 1959 – a dozen years after the major leagues were integrated by Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby.
The Red Sox could have been the first, trying out Robinson and Sam Jethroe – who went on to be a rookie of the year in Boston, with the Braves in 1950 – in 1945. But they weren’t signed. The team also scouted a young Willie Mays, playing in Birmingham for the Black Barons in the Negro Leagues, but decided not to sign him.
Clif Keane, a former reporter for the Boston Globe, claims that at the 1945 tryout – given at the behest of a city councilman who was threatening to withhold a permit for the Red Sox to play on Sundays – someone yelled, “Get those n—–s off the field!” Keane believed it was Yawkey. As a result, the Red Sox slid into irrelevance through the 1950s. But sure, blame a curse.
Now, after 40 years, the Red Sox – whose current ownership has never shied away from addressing Yawkey’s background – want to see his name removed. Henry says he’s “haunted” by previous events, and wants a name that shows the team stands for inclusiveness and doing the right thing.
He’s suggested naming the street after David Ortiz. I also have a suggestion, and I think it would bring attention to a man who’s been largely forgotten and deserves more credit than he gets: Charles Somers, the original owner of the Red Sox – and the Indians — and the man who kept the American League afloat in its tenuous first decade.
Somers, a native of Newark in central Ohio, made his money in coal. When the Spiders left after a dismal 1899 season, Somers wanted to return baseball to Cleveland. He partnered with Ban Johnson, a sportswriter who also had designs on a new league. In 1901, the American League started, and when a team was transferred to Boston, Somers ceded control of the new Cleveland team to run the Boston team, occasionally called the Somersets in his honor.
A year later, Somers was able to sell the Boston team and returned to Cleveland. He also funded stadium construction in Chicago and Philadelphia, and created a proto-farm system with agreements and ownership of several minor league teams.
A run of bad business and some bad decisions of his own forced Somers into dire financial straits, and he was forced to sell the Indians in 1916. Somers died in 1934, consigned to obscurity. His place in baseball history – in Cleveland, in Boston, and in general – deserves to be commemorated.