top of page

Tom Yawkey

The Res Sox were in a chaotic state. Years after selling off Babe Ruth and the rest of a championship roster, the team's books were in dire straights. It took the financial might of one man's inheritance to pull them out of the doldrums of the majors and into regular contenders that just couldn't win the big one. That man was Tom Yawkey and this is his story.

The Early Years

Thomas Yawkey Austin was born on February 21,1903 in Detroit, Michigan. His father, Thomas J. Austin, had been an insurance executive before he married into the Yawkey family, a brood that had grown its wealth in the timber business, having logged much of Michigan's pine forests.

When young Tom was just six months old, his father passed away and his mother moved him and his sister into his uncle's estate. His uncle Bill Yawkey thoroughly enjoyed a life of leisure and hardly had a work ethic to speak of. He did co-own the Detroit Tigers for several years and thus whetted Tom's appetite for the National Pastime. After Tom's mother died from Influenza in 1918, he was formally adopted by his uncle and switched his middle and last names. From then on, he would be known as Thomas Austin Yawkey.

Death again bore its teeth against the Yawkey family when Tom's uncle William died six months later. His will split his $40 million fortune between Tom and his aunt. However, there was a clause in the will that split Tom's share in two, with half being paid in 1925 and the other being paid in 1930 when he turned 30 years old. Uncle William had no idea just how far that inheritance would carry his nephew.

In the years to come, Tom Yawkey would graduate from the Irving School in Tarrytown, New York and the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale. As an alumni of Irving, he met fellow alumnus Eddie Collins quickly sparked a friendship. With his 30th birthday fast approaching, he and the famed Athletic's second baseman planned to buy a team together when Yawkey got the last of his inheritance.

The Red Sox

After Harry Frazee sold off the Rex Sox dynasty of the 1910's, the ball club began a long, downward spiral into insolvency. Things only got worse when. the team was sold to Bob Quinn. By 1932, he was so strapped for cash that he was forced to borrow from his life insurance just to afford to send his team to spring training.

Enter Tom Yawkey. With Eddie Collins brokering the deal, Yawkey bought the club and Fenway Park for $1.25 million, a mere blip in his $20 million inheritance. The Red Sox would no longer know poverty.

The impact was immediate. With Yawkey providing the funds and Collins working behind the scenes as the team's general manager, the Boston Red Sox slowly began to climb out of the cellar. The year before the new regime arrived, the Red Sox drew just 182,150 fans for the year. In Yawkey's first year at the helm, Boston drew 268, 715 fans. After drawing more than 610,600 in 1934, the Rede Sox would average out to that number for the next several years.

For the next decade, the Red Sox would sign players such as Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx and Joe Cronin, who would sign on the dual role as the club's manager for the next 13 years too. They even bought players all the way in the Pacific Coast League such as Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Money was seemingly never an issue for the club that was quietly becoming known as the "Gold Sox" and "the Millionaires". Since the club was so cash poor when Yawkey first came on board, almost all of the players were paid for with his money.

In the midst of the rebuild, Tom Yawkey found love in 1944. Weeks after divorcing his first wife, Elise, he married the former Jean Hollander. While his first marriage was a terrible match, Jean was everything that tomg was and needed. Quiet and reserved with a wense of loyalty and service that would endeer the couple to many. For the next 30 years, the couple hardly missed a game from their usual perch above the crowd at third base.

The team's ascension was slow. Very slow. In fact, they had to wait until 1938 to be behind the first place team in the league by less than 10 games. But by 1046, there was change in the air. It was as if all those years of buying players and building a competent farm system came to fruition. Although the Red Sox finished seventh the year before, they won 104 games, won the American League for the first time since 1918 and drew 1,416, 944 fans, more than double than the year before.

It was quite a year for Boston. Fresh from his military service, Ted Williams swung his mighty bat to the tune of 38 homers, 142 rbi and a .342 average. The team was also led by two pitcher that won 20 or more games in Dave Ferris (25-6, 3.25 ERA) and Tex Hughson (20-11) 2.75 ERA. But the good times didn't last as the Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in seven games in the World Series. It was a cycle that would repeat itself again and again for the Yawkey family.

For the next two decades, Tom Yawkey built a reputation as a player's owner, one that tried to keep everyone happy and caring little about the standings. The media hardly ever picked up on a contract bout and within the cozy confines of fenway park lay a true family atmosphere where the owner always looked out for his employees. He would often take batting practice with his players and even enjoyed the occasional outdoors excursion with his closest employees, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove.

The one player that he could never get close to? Ted Williams. The Splendid Splinter never warmed to the media or his boss, but that didn't keep Yawkey from supporting his best player no matter how badly he treated the media.

By 1956, Tom Yawkey had become the vice president of the American League. It was a position that he would hold through 1973. Despite being intensely shy and hardly ever granting interviews, Yawkey became well-loved throughout all of baseball for his goodwill and loyalty.

The one thing that held him back from being fully embraced by the public was a huge misunderstanding. Since the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, many thought that Tom Yawkey was racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. All through the 1950's, he tried and tried again to integrate his ball club, adding Black stars from the Negro Leagues to his minor league circuit such as Lorenzo "Piper" Davis and Earl Wilson. He even twice tried to trade for Cleveland star Larry Doby, but was turned down both tijmes. Finally, in 1959, both Elijah "Pumpsie" Green and Earl Wilson (once he got back from military service) were promoted to the major league club. At long last, baseball had been fully integrated.

After several years in the cellar, the Red Sox reemerged in 1967 with a reinvigorated fanbase that has yet to diminish. But alas, their World Series woes continued. Although they were up by three in the sixth inning of the seventh game, the Red Sox fell to the Cardinals 4-3.

Although they didn't return to the World Series for several years, the Red Sox carried the momentum of that magical 1967 season with them for the next decade, never going below third place in their Division from 1969 through 1975. The Red Sox entered the 1975 World Series brimming with confidence, especially after Carlton Fisk hit a game-winning, walk-off homer in the 12th inning of Game Six, beating the Reds 7-6 in an instant classic. But there was a rainout the following day, dulling their edge and giving Cincinnati the time they needed to regroup.

Game 7 was déjà vu for Tom Yawkey and his family as the Red Sox lost to the Big Red Machine 4-3. It would be Tom Yawkey's last shot at the title. He died from leukemia the following July. His wife, Jean, would own the club until her death in 1992. Tom Yawkey was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980, but that was far from the end of his legacy.

The Yawkey Legacy

Although he's been gone for nearly 50 years, Tom Yawkey's legacy lives on in Boston. The Yawkey Foundation was founded through his will, with $10 million from his estate being used as seed money.

The Foundation has donated large sums of money to various charities and causes throughout Boston over the years. The was the $25 million to Massachusetts General Hospital in 2002 and the $30 million donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2007, a charity that the Red Sox has been associated with (particularly the Jimmy Fund) since 1953. In 2008, with the housing crisis catching the nation off guard, the Yawkey Foundation built the Jean Yawkey Place, a homeless shelter that has served many ever since.

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page