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John Harrington praises record of late Red Sox owner

September 21, 2017 GMT

Former Red Sox president John Harrington is doubling down on his plea to the city and ownership to keep the name Yawkey Way, saying he’s backed by the Fenway faithful who have responded to a three-page letter he wrote defending the team’s history.

“I was worried people might not read it, but I’ve received tons of feedback,” he told the Herald last night. “People are apparently hearing the other side of the Jackie Robinson story.”

Harrington said former team owner Tom Yawkey — blasted for running the last team in baseball to integrate — wasn’t in Boston when Robinson tried out at Fenway Park in April 1945 and, therefore, couldn’t have yelled a racial slur at him and two other Negro League players who were there for a tryout.

“Proponents of the name change have led a campaign marked by factually inaccurate statements,” Harrington wrote. He did acknowledge it was “regrettable” that the team was the last to integrate, in 1959.

Harrington said he has not heard from current Sox owner John Henry about the name change.

“My hope is he will change his mind,” Harrington said. “I hope this letter will have an impact.”

Sox brass have said they are still moving ahead with Henry’s call to dump Yawkey Way. The famous byway, along Fenway’s third-base line, turns into an outdoor festival before every home game.

The other two abutters on the street have also agreed with the ballclub to take Yawkey’s name down. The next step is to formally bring a petition to the city’s Public Improvement Commission to rename the street.

Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy has said he hopes the petition can be finalized by the end of this month.

Henry told Herald sports writer Michael Silverman last month that he had decided it was time to take down the Yawkey name because of the legacy of racism.

Tom Yawkey owned the Sox from 1933 until his death in 1976. His wife, Jean Yawkey, remained involved with ownership for another 16 years.

Harrington’s letter stressed that Tom Yawkey “truly loved the game of baseball” and “treated every player the same, regardless of their race.”

Harrington praised Yawkey for launching the now-famous Jimmy Fund campaign — first teaming up with Dr. Sidney Farber at Boston Children’s Hospital on “work that continues to this day at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.”

He said in his experience Tom Yawkey supported minority players.

“I was not there in the 1950s, but I was working with Tom when players such as Jim Rice, Luis Tiant and Reggie Smith were playing for the Red Sox,” Harrington said, adding Yawkey would ask in meetings why the team didn’t have “more black ballplayers.”

As for naming rights, he said while the Yawkeys were alive, “they never allowed their name to be placed on any buildings.”

Naming the street Yawkey Way was done after the Red Sox owner’s death, Harrington added, saying some wanted to name Fenway Yawkey Park.

“Jean felt that changing the name that had been given to the ballpark by the prior owners was inappropriate,” he said.

“Tom and Jean were my friends and they are people I admired. The Trustees and staff of the Yawkey Foundations work every day to continue the legacy of these remarkable people,” Harrington wrote in the letter. “We continue to be proud to carry out the Yawkeys’ legacy.”