As the Red Sox struggle in 2019 we decided that we needed to remember how difficult our first fifty years of Red Sox fandom was. In fact, before we were born, the Red Sox lost a seventh game of a World Series and two American league playoffs within a four year period (1946-1949). So we wanted to know about the most important owner for the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey and we were ready for the heartaches.
Bill Nowlin’s Tom Yawkey: The Patriarch Of The Boston Red Sox is an important book. It is not a great book but it is an important book. Part of the reason that it is not a great book is part of the reason it is an important book. Tom Yawkey stayed out of the limelight. He never wrote anything and he rarely said much. Bill has done a great job of running down every lead and trying to understand Tom. One shortcoming is a failure to have a discussion of Tom’s business interests. It is entirely possible that there is nothing to find because all of the businesses are privately owned and there is nothing to find. If that is so then Bill should tell us so.
It is an important book because Tom was one of the most important owners in baseball and yet he didn’t have a biography. He is an important owner because he saved the Red Sox and Fenway Park. The Red Sox were days if not hours from bankruptcy when Tom bought them. Fenway was a disaster. He is an important owner because he owned the Red Sox for 43 years and his widow extended that. He is an important owner because his team was the last one to integrate. We recommend that you read Bill’s book but we think you will not find it entirely satisfying but it will help you understand Tom because Bill has done an extraordinary job of research.
Sidebar: You are thinking that we are upset because he didn’t reference our stuff aren’t you? Nope. Bill could have gotten the price for Babe Ruth correct but that is about the only stone that he didn’t turn over. End Sidebar.
It is not entirely satisfying because Bill has the details but not always the insight. We will give you two examples. The first one is relatively small but indicative of our concerns: Bill lets Bob Quinn off the hook for his disastrous ownership. Bob owned the Red Sox for almost ten years from 1923 (he bought the team during the season) to 1933 before spring training. During those ten years the Sox finished eighth (last) eight time plus seventh and sixth. Bill buys the Wikipedia line (see page 2 where he adds the Great Depression) that:
However, the most important member of Quinn’s ownership group, St. Louis millionaire Palmer Winslow, died in [April] 1927. For the remainder of Quinn’s tenure as Bosox owner, the team was severely underfinanced. Largely as a result, Quinn’s tenure as owner was, statistically speaking, the darkest in [any?] franchise history. In 10 years, the Red Sox never finished higher than sixth, and were no closer than 25 games out of first.
Remember that deals for 1927 would have been made by April when Palmer died. During ’25-27 (the third through fifth years of Quinn’s ownership) the Red Sox lost a total of 315 games when they only played 154 in a season. They were in baseball and financial disarray. Palmer’s death seems insignificant.
Our second example is Bill fails to take the Boston baseball writers to task for describing Tom as an out of touch owner. His research shows that Tom is listening to the games (sometimes over the telephone) from South Carolina and is well informed about the Red Sox and their farm teams. Fake news started before Tom but it certainly had an impact on him. The Boston writers tear into Tom as out of touch. Bill has the information to take them to task but doesn’t. Bill’s best moment of insight is when he discusses race and the Red Sox and takes the Boston papers to task for their failure to integrate. It does not absolve the Red Sox but it puts the issue in its proper context.
We think you should read Bill’s book. It has great information and some insight. We wish it had more.