January 24 – Happy Birthday Jean Yawkey

From a business standpoint, today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant did not have very big shoes to fill when she took over for her deceased husband as President of the Boston Red Sox in 1976. After all, old Tom had lost millions of dollars trying to bring a World Series flag to Fenway since he became owner of the team in 1933 and had not been successful. But make no mistake about it, lots of Red Sox fans worshiped Tom Yawkey for trying all those years and replacing him was a daunting task to say the least.

Unbelievably, Tom did not leave instructions for how ownership of his team would be resolved upon his death. His widow, Jean decided to sell the team. But instead of accepting the highest bid, she decided to sell to a group led by Red Sox VP, Haywood Sullivan. Major League Baseball would not approve the deal and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn asked that Jean Yawkey herself, retain a majority share in the team. She complied and then in her first major move as decision maker, she fired Dick O’Connell, who had proven himself to be the best GM in the franchise’s history. During most of Tom Yawkey’s tenure as team owner, most player personnel decisions were based on cronyism instead of talent and skill. O’Connell changed all that, and by 1975, the team he had assembled came within just two runs from winning Boston’s first World Series in over half-a-century. But Mrs. Yawkey had a long-term personal dislike for O’Connell and fired him, with Sullivan’s complete approval. Haywood then became GM and pretty much took control of all aspects of the team, though Jean remained very actively involved in the decision-making process.

The Red Sox team O’Connell had put together remained very competitive for the balance of the 1970s but by the beginning of the next decade, the subsequent moves made by the un-dynamic duo of Sullivan and Yawkey began pulling Boston back down in the standings. Then in 1984, in an embarrassing episode, former Red Sox trainer and team trainer, Buddy LeRoux attempted a hostile takeover of the team’s ownership. When it was resolved, Yawkey still owned the team but Sullivan was forced to step aside as GM. Lou Gorman was installed in his place and given the power necessary to make player personnel moves. Two years later, the Red Sox were back in the World Series.

Mrs. Yawkey died in 1992. She did make up for that first horrible management decision when she fired O’Connell, by getting rid of Sullivan in 1987 and then promoting John Harrington, who had been the Treasurer of the Red Sox, to serve in a chief executive’s capacity.

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