Seven-time All-Star Reggie Smith, who spent his first eight seasons as a member of the Boston Red Sox, is weighing in on the debate to restore Yawkey Way to its previous name of Jersey Street based on the racist legacy of the road's namesake, Tom Yawkey.
"I wish they would leave it Yawkey Way," Smith, now 72, told Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.
"Tom Yawkey treated me very fairly," the former outfielder added. "I had conversations with him about the reputation that he had and the Red Sox had during the time I was there. He wanted to make sure that he had a good team and he wanted the best players he could possibly get ... I was treated very fairly and I know that when I left Boston I was the highest-paid African-American player that he had, and I respect him for it."
At the end of February, the Red Sox filed a petition with the City of Boston to rename Yawkey Way - the street on which Fenway Park resides - as Jersey Street, the name it bore until 1977 when it was changed to honor the late Red Sox owner.
"As far as them wanting to take his name down because at the time he was associated with racism, we have to live with how things were," Smith continued. "Do we agree with them? No. Was it the way it was? Yes. You move on ... (N)ot every black player hated Mr. Yawkey."
Smith played an integral role in the 1967 'Impossible Dream' season, helping propel the club to their first World Series berth in over two decades. The Cinderella Red Sox would end up losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games and wouldn't appear in another Fall Classic until 1975.
While Hall of Famer Rod Carew was the runaway Rookie of the Year that season, Smith finished second, slashing .246/.315/.389 with 15 home runs and 16 stolen bases and earning one first-place vote. Smith would go on to finish top-five in MVP voting twice in his career, in 1977 and 1978 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Though Smith is open to continuing to honor the legacy of Yawkey, he has been openly critical of Boston before. As Shaughnessy astutely points out, Smith said he "never felt welcome in Boston," and that he "believed it was a racist city," in the 2003 book 'Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston' by Howard Bryant.