25 February 1933 – On this day eighty years ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, Bob Quinn sells the Red Sox franchise for $1.5 million to Thomas Austin Yawkey, who had celebrated his 30th birthday four days earlier. Yawkey served as the sole owner of the team for the next 44 years and became a Boston institution as well as a pillar of Major League Baseball, though the legacy of his ownership was not without controversy.
Yawkey’s first order of business after purchasing the club was to renovate the rapidly aging Fenway Park. He spent another $1.5 million on a near-total reconstruction, employing thousands of laborers who had been affected by the Great Depression; his efforts had the park turned into a palace when the gates opened in April of 1934.
Trying to build contenders, Yawkey would pull out his wallet on several occasions to pay big money for talent, sometimes wisely but more often foolishly; he mistakenly believed that his inheritance would solve any problem and often threw unheard-of amounts of money at players who were either unproven or past their prime. He also strongly resisted integration in baseball; as a result, Boston became the last club to field a black player, twelve years after Jackie Robinson’s rookie season, and continued to be dogged by charges of unspoken racial policies even after Yawkey’s death in 1976. As a result of his short-sightedness, only three times during his tenure as owner did the Sox win a pennant.
Even still, he managed to bring Hall-of-Fame talent into the fold over the years in the form of Joe Cronin, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski. Yawkey also did his part for the local community; over the years, he funneled much of his time and money into groups like the Jimmy Fund, which continues to raise money for sick children through its affiliation with the Red Sox.
A sportsman in the truest sense of the word and regarded highly by his peers, Yawkey was later the first person elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame who had never served as a player, a manager, or a general manager.