Haywood Sullivan at the Red Sox

From Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race, by Larry Colton (Hachette, 2013), Kindle Loc. 4869-4895:

In 1965, [Charlie] Finley fired his manager Mel McGaha and named [Haywood] Sullivan the [Kansas City] A’s newest manager. At thirty-four, he was the youngest skipper in the big leagues. His meteoric ascension had taken only a year.

He didn’t have any better luck than Finley’s previous managers, however, either in winning games with his inept team or in curtailing Finley’s constant meddling. When he got a call in the off-season from Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, offering him the position of vice president of player development, he said yes.

Over the next twenty-seven years, he would become the first person in the history of the major leagues to be a player, manager, general manager, and owner… and one of the most respected men in the game.

His time as general manager and owner, however, wasn’t without controversy. For years, the Red Sox faced repeated charges of racism, and Yawkey’s response to the team’s lack of black players didn’t help:

I have no feeling against colored people. I employ a lot of them in the South. But they are clannish, and when the story got around that we didn’t want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club.

As general manager, Sullivan incurred the ire of Red Sox Nation for letting go of popular players such as Luis Tiant, Bernie Carbo, Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, and Bill “Spaceman” Lee. And it was under his watch that the Red Sox blew a fourteen-game lead and lost in a one-game play-off to the evil Yankees on Bucky Dent’s homer.

When Yawkey died in 1976, his widow loaned Sullivan a million dollars, and he became a third owner of the team. After he and Mrs. Yawkey survived an attempted coup by co-owner Buddy LeRoux, he took over running the team, and although the fans had grown increasingly impatient for a championship, he became one of the most respected owners in the game. He served on the Major League Executive Council, the committee that basically runs baseball. In 1981, he was named by the Sporting News as the top executive of the American League.

Around Fenway, Sullivan had a reputation for dignity and decency, treating the grounds crew and the ticket takers with the same respect he afforded his players and fellow American League owners. There was discussion among the other owners of naming him the league president.

Perhaps the criticism of Sullivan’s tenure as general manager–owner that stung the most was regarding his older son, Marc, the little boy whom Hoss and Tommie Reynolds used to push around the [Birmingham] Barons’ locker room in a laundry cart. In 1980, the Red Sox selected him in the second round of the draft. Some said his skills didn’t merit being drafted that high, and he’d been picked only because his father owned the team. Marc was good enough, however, to play parts of five years in the big leagues, mostly as a backup catcher, although his career .193 batting average did little to quiet the doubters.

In 1993, a year after the death of Mrs. Yawkey, Sullivan sold his share of the team and retired from baseball after five absorbing decades. He confessed to friends and family that as much as he loved the game, he no longer wanted to be part of the direction it was taking, with strikes, labor disputes, skyrocketing salaries, and agents and players who cared too little about the history and integrity of the game. According to the New York Times, he received $36 million for the sale.

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