Mookie Betts, John Farrell weigh in on Red Sox effort to rename controversial Yawkey Way

Yawkey Way name change a decades-old debate (1:18)

Howard Bryant says that the desire to change the name of Yawkey Way isn't a new discussion nor is it in light of recent events in Charlottesville, but rather an ongoing debate throughout the city of Boston. (1:18)

BOSTON -- The Red Sox have four African-American players on their 25-man roster, a sizable number given the number of black players in Major League Baseball. But that doesn't mean the issue of whether to rename the street that borders Fenway Park has been a topic of conversation among them.

In fact, the prevailing opinion among players and staff Friday was that they trust owner John Henry to do whatever he sees fit.

Henry told the Boston Herald on Thursday that he feels "haunted" by Yawkey's racist legacy and plans to lead an effort to rename Yawkey Way, the extension of Jersey Street that serves as Fenway's primary address. And while that sentiment has drawn some opposition -- the charitable foundation set up by the Yawkey family said it's "disheartened" by Henry's initiative -- it barely registered in the Red Sox's clubhouse.

"I don't know much about the Yawkey family," said right fielder Mookie Betts, who is black. "I do know that our front office, [president/CEO] Sam Kennedy and those guys, do a great job making Fenway a place where everybody's welcome. So, I support everything they do at this point."

Yawkey died 40 years ago, long before any current Red Sox players were born. His widow, Jean Yawkey, died in 1993. Henry bought the team in 2002.

Under Yawkey, the Red Sox were the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate. They held a tryout for Jackie Robinson but passed on the opportunity to sign him, and they passed on Willie Mays as well. The first black player on the Red Sox was Pumpsie Green in 1959.

Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday that he fully supports what Henry and the ownership group is trying to do.

"This is well beyond our day to day at field level," Farrell said. "But there have been so many efforts to pay attention to our social needs in our community, in the city of Boston. Our ownership does a great job of trying to create an atmosphere of inclusion and take very intangible and active steps to do that.

"I can't speak for what Tom Yawkey was about. I'm well aware of the philanthropy that he and his family and his foundation have given to many area hospitals, many area organizations. So he was a very positive person in that regard.

"But as far as the downside, or maybe the side that's not perceived as positively, I don't know what that entailed or what that was involved with. But there's a history there of it. And I think that's where John Henry and our ownership group is trying to do what they feel is right."

In an interview Thursday with Comcast SportsNet, Kennedy said the topic has been on his mind for a long time.

"We've been discussing this for over a decade internally -- the conversation has come up time and time," Kennedy said. "I think today what John did was send a very loud message about what he's been saying since we arrived in 2002, which is we want Fenway to be open and inclusive and tolerant to everyone, and so it's just a conversation we've been having for a while."

The Yawkey Foundation said in a statement to the Associated Press that Jean and Tom Yawkey's philanthropy was "color blind'' and their generosity benefited thousands of disadvantaged children of all backgrounds.

"Their extraordinary generosity has made a significant impact on Massachusetts and the Greater Boston community," the statement said, "contributing more than $450 million to hundreds of nonprofit organizations and helping improve the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children of all backgrounds. We are honored to have the Yawkey name on so many organizations and institutions that benefit Bostonians of all races."

Yawkey owned the team from 1933 until his death in 1976. The street was named for him in 1977.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.