Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox

Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox

Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox

Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox


Few people have influenced a team as much as did Tom Yawkey (1903-76) as owner of the Boston Red Sox. After purchasing the Red Sox for $1.2 million in 1932, Yawkey poured millions into building a better team and making the franchise relevant again.

Although the Red Sox never won a World Series under Yawkey's ownership, there were still many highlights. Lefty Grove won his three hundredth game; Jimmie Foxx hit fifty home runs; Ted Williams batted.406 in 1941, and both Williams and Carl Yastrzemski won Triple Crowns. Yawkey was viewed by fans as a genial autocrat who ran his ball club like a hobby more than a business and who spoiled his players. He was perhaps too trusting, relying on flawed cronies rather than the most competent executives to run his ballclub. One of his more unfortunate legacies was the accusation that he was a racist, since the Red Sox were the last Major League team to integrate, and his inaction in this regard haunted both him and the team for decades. As one of the last great patriarchal owners in baseball, he was the first person elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame who hadn't been a player, manager, or general manager.

Bill Nowlin takes a close look at Yawkey's life as a sportsman and as one of the leading philanthropists in New England and South Carolina. He also addresses Yawkey's leadership style and issues of racism during his tenure with the Red Sox.


As I began to write a biography of Tom Yawkey, I was surprised to learn how little had ever been written about him. He was, after all, sole owner of the Boston Red Sox from 1933 to his death in 1976, and his widow Jean and her trust continued to own the team into 2002—a span covering some sixty-nine years. Yawkey was also a prominent philanthropist; his name now graces many buildings and organizations. Yet one of the lengthiest pieces about him heretofore was a 3,949-word biography written by Mark Armour in 2009 for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) BioProject. Length aside, there are few pieces written about either Tom or Jean Yawkey.

The Yawkeys put their stamp on Boston baseball. Their charitable legacy lives on, in terms of both the billion dollars or so that they will ultimately have donated to worthy causes and the thirtyone square miles of conservation land they have given to the state of South Carolina. Dick Johnson of the Sports Museum of New England has said, “If they had a Hall of Fame for philanthropy, [Tom] and Jean Yawkey would be charter members of that institution.”

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