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Former Boston Red Sox Owner Tom Yawkey’s Wisconsin Connection

Controversial Red Sox Owner Related To Wisconsin Lumber Baron

Fans gather on 4 Yawkey Way
Glen Moberg/WPR

There is a Wisconsin connection to Tom Yawkey, the controversial former owner of the Boston Red Sox.

Yawkey owned the team from 1933 until his death in 1976. He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to charity.

But critics charge he was also a racist who refused to hire black players. The Red Sox were the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate in 1959, twelve years after baseball legend Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

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Now, the Boston Red Sox want to take Yawkey’s name off the street, Yawkey Way, that runs past their home field, Fenway Park, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Last week, after the rally by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, current Red Sox owner John Henry told the Boston Herald he thought it was time to rename the street.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told the newspaper he supported the idea.

Yawkey was the first cousin, once removed, of Cyrus Yawkey, the Wisconsin lumber baron who was the driving force behind the Wausau area’s regional economy. Cyrus also served in the state Assembly from 1895 to 1896.

Tom lost his father to pneumonia, and was adopted by his uncle, Bill Yawkey, heir to the lion’s share of the family fortune. Tom was just 16 when Bill died.

Gary Walters, curator of the Yawkey House for the Marathon County Historical Society in Wausau, said Cyrus became the legal guardian of Tom’s estate until he was able to inherit it at age 30.

“It was around $41 million, is what we heard, and that was during 1931 in the Depression, so it was quite a big amount,” Walters said.

The inheritance came to just over $7 million after taxes and charitable donations, according to Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson in their book, “Red Sox Century.”

Tom had a summer home in Hazelhurst, near one owned by Cyrus, said Walters, the curator.

“He had a cottage, they called it Uncle Tom’s Cabin, up in Lake Katherine, across the lake from the Yawkey family,” Walters said.

Tom used his fortune to buy the Red Sox. Despite spending millions of dollars on the team, a World Series championship eluded him.

Critics say his refusal to hire black baseball players was a factor. Tom reportedly refused to sign a young Willie Mays when he had the opportunity.

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