The Red Sox are an integral part of Boston's culture. The team brings entertainment, a sense of community, and a source of economic revenue to the city. The Red Sox also have shared Boston’s struggles with its racist history, and despite lots of progress made today to make the city more open and diverse, the city and team resisted these changes for a long time. Missing from this conversation is an analysis of how racial integration has changed Boston and the Red Sox since the 2004 World Series Title, one of the most important moments in the history of both the city and team. The 2004 World Series marked a significant moment for the Red Sox’s and Boston’s racial progress. This victory represented a major turning point in racial integration for the team and city, but integration that still fell short of perfection. Following 2004, the next 15 years demonstrated further strides in racial integration while also containing major flaws, just as in the past.
Sports manifest themselves in the fabric of the Boston’s identity and culture in many ways.The steady stream of championship victories earned by Boston area professional sports teams in the 21st century have earned it the nickname “Titletown”, immortalized in a 2018 resolution passed by the United States Congress (CBS). In nineteen years, the four major sports clubs in the city have won a combined twelve titles between them. This postseason success correlates with higher revenue, and in 2018 the four major teams generated over a billion dollars of revenue for the city, with the Red Sox responsible for about half a billion of that revenue (Statista). Twelve duck boat parades have given Bostonians many celebrations and moments where everyone is able to revel in their shared glory. The Red Sox were responsible for four of those twelve parades. The Sox sold out 820 consecutive games at Fenway Park from 2003-2013, a testament to the passion and love the fans have for their team (USA Today). The Red Sox also brought the city together to heal, such as when the ywon the 2013 World Series just months after the deadly Boston Marathon Bombings. The Red Sox make their presence in Boston felt on and off the field.
However, Boston’s identity and culture over the years have also been shaped by a darker force- a deeply rooted history of racism. In 1950, Boston was one of the whitest cities in America, with 95% of the population comprising whites (African Americans in the Massachusetts Legislature: Boston Racial Demographics). White Bostonian elites, known as “Boston Brahmins,” always believed themselves to be higher class than other Bostonians, especially nonwhite Bostonians, so they were known for being very exclusionary (Ledbetter, pg 51). They kept tight social circles based on familial lineage and wealth, and the Brahmins in government often wielded their power to enact discriminatory laws against immigrants and African Americans. Immigrants and African Americans faced hurdles to obtaining education, jobs, and government assistance, and social stratification in the city made it clear that they were not welcomed.
Despite its history of racism, the city had a much more diverse population in 2000. According to the 2000 Census, whites made up 49% of Boston’s population and African Americans made up 25% of its population (African Americans in the Massachusetts Legislature: Boston Racial Demographics). This is due in part to the expansion of the Boston city limits to include historically diverse areas such as Dorchester and Roxbury. Allowing the city limits to extend to predominantly African American areas would have never occurred in the past with the prevailing attitudes of the bigoted Boston elites. This troubled past is the basis for the city’s notorious reputation of struggling with racism despite progress made in becoming a more racially diverse community.
The Red Sox also grappled with racial integration from 1945 to 2002. Jackie Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first ever black player to play in the Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1947. The Brooklyn Dodgers were not the only team who considered signing Robinson at the time. The Red Sox hosted Jackie Robinson and several other black players for a tryout in 1945. According to sportswriter Glenn Stout in an interview with WBUR, the Red Sox only gave the sham tryout due to “pressure from a city councilor”, and they never had any intention of giving any of the players a spot on the team (Stout). Infielder Pumpsie Green made his debut in 1959 as the Red Sox’s first ever black player which made the Red Sox the last team in the MLB to integrate. This can be attributed to former Red Sox President Tom Yawkey, a noted racist who resisted racial integration in every part of the organization for his four decades in charge of the team. A Boston Globe investigation in 2017 revealed that due to media and political pressure mounting from a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) investigation into the Red Sox’s hiring practices, Yawkey relented (Boston Globe).
The Soiling of Old Glory by Stanley FormanBoston too experienced struggles in becoming a more racially integrated city. Boston witnessed high racial tensions and violent clashes after a federal court ordered the Boston Public School system to desegregate its schools in 1974. This order mandated that a new system of busing be implemented to integrate the schools, so white students were forced to attend predominantly African American schools and vice versa. Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling that deemed segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, was issued 20 years prior to this ruling. A series of violent protests and demonstrations ensued for several years afterwards, epitomized by the 1976 picture “The Soiling of Old Glory” captured by Stanley Forman:
The picture shows white protestors impaling Ted Landsmark, a respected black lawyer, with an American flag as he left work (Forman). The situation reached a boiling point in the equally hot summer of 1975, in which the cauldron of tension and violence felt like it could spill over into a civil war. In Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston by Howard Bryant, former Boston Mayor Kevin White went as far as to say “the only event keeping [Boston] from doing so was the glorious 1975 AL pennant run” (Bryant, pg 118). The exciting Red Sox team, led by black outfielder and Sox legend Jim Rice, excited fans with wild games and comebacks that brought them to the World Series. Several other black players played key roles in the team that year. Paradoxically, the city tottered on the border of a race war while the success of a racially integrated Red Sox team prevented Bostonians from crossing that border. Imagining a White student from Southie protesting and a black student bused to school Southie both coming home to put all their hope in the same baseball team serves as a microcosm of the nuanced history of integration in the Red Sox and Boston.
There exists little academic discussion on how racial integration has changed Boston and the Red Sox since the 2004 World Series Title, though. In Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, Howard Bryant identifies key struggles in the changing racial identity of the Red Sox and the city of Boston from 1945-2002 (Bryant). While episodes such as Pumpsie Green’s debut in 1959 and the Boston Busing Crisis in the 1970’s reveal much about the connections between the team and city on the difficulties of integration, a lack of research remains on what has happened in the team and city since the monumental moment when the Red Sox broke their curse and won their first championship in 86 years. The victory signified the end of the “Curse of the Bambino,” a term coined by Dan Shaughnessy in his book of the same name (Shaughnessy, pg 1). This superstition posited that the Red Sox would not win a World Series after they traded Babe Ruth in 1918. Red Sox faithful widely believed this lore and used it to explain their mediocrity and dashed hopes for decades, as the team never reached the pinnacle of baseball despite becoming painfully close on several occasions. The victory was unquestionably a defining moment for the Red Sox and Boston, yet no research has been done since that moment to examine its implications on Boston’s and the Red Sox’s changing racial identity.
The victory wasn’t just any victory for the team and city; The 2004 World Series marked a watershed moment for the Red Sox’s and Boston’s racial progress, an imperfect journey. The Red Sox boasted one of their most racially integrated rosters ever in the 2004 World Series, highlighting the long journey it took to reach that point. Three of the twenty five players in that side were black, and three others were nonwhite (MLB). More than 25% of the players in that team did not look like nearly all of the players from the team’s past. Most of those nonwhite players were more than just good players- they were the stars. Pedro Martinez had dazzled Red Sox fans with his lethal pitching since 1998, and his crucial performances in 2004 solidified his status as a Red Sox legend (Bleacher Report). Dave Roberts stole second base and later brought in a run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, the archrivals of the Red Sox, to help the Red Sox win and stave off elimination (Bleacher Report). They went on to stun the Yankees and come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the series in seven games. Manny Ramirez had a whopping batting average of .412 in the postseason to cap his Silver Slugger Award season (Baseball Reference). Although all these players made an important impact on and off the field, David Ortiz deserves a special mention as the soul of the team. Affectionately known as “Big Papi” by Sox faithful, his heart as big as his build, Ortiz hit multiple game winning hits and home runs to break the Curse of the Bambino (Baseball Reference). This propelled him to become the face of the franchise, a role he held onto for all of his thirteen years at the club. Winning the 2004 World Series changed the fortune of the club entirely, and it would not have been possible without several nonwhite players making crucial contributions. On the field, they were the superstars who stole the show. Off the field, they were the idols and heroes adored by fans. This signifies an exceptional attitude shift of Bostonians in openly embracing nonwhite athletes.
The 2004 World Series was the pinnacle of another long journey-- breaking the Curse of the Bambino. On October 27, 2004, the Boston Red Sox finally raised the World Series trophy as champions of the world after beating the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 in the Fall Classic, their first title since 1918. The victory meant an immense amount to the Sox fanbase. Lifelong Red Sox fan Jerry Thornton, featured in the 2005 HBO Documentary Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino, commented that the World Series victory “turned [his] whole world upside down” (HBO). Red Sox fans had become accustomed to disappointment and defeat for 86 long and painful years. To him and many other fans, baseball was more than a sport-- it was their religion (HBO). Boston Globe reporter Leigh Montville described his resolve every year to “not let them get [him] again,” only for a hint of promise to raise his hopes and lead to his inexorable disappointment (HBO). Generations of Sox fans were let down again and again as they watched their beloved team fail to deliver them the championship they so desperately desired. The stakes in 2004 were immensely high as a result. Winning a World Series is a significant moment for every baseball team and its respective city. However, winning the World Series that year undoubtedly indicated one of the most remarkable moments in the history of the team and city, a city itself with a storied past. The feeling fans got from the victory was “beyond explanation”, but “nothing [would] ever be the same” (HBO). Breaking the curse represented a life defining moment for Red Sox fans past, present, and future.
Boston was in the midst of undergoing a demographic change during the 2004 World Series similar to that of the Red Sox. A majority-minority city for the first time in its history, 49% of Bostonians identified as white and 24% of Bostonians identified as black in the 2000 census (African Americans in the Massachusetts Legislature: Boston Racial Demographics). Fifty years prior, while the Red Sox remained solidly against the idea of fielding any black player, Bostonians were 95% white (African Americans in the Massachusetts Legislature: Boston Racial Demographics). Previous championships won by a nearly all-white team were celebrated by a nearly all-white population. The Bostonians celebrating the championship in 2004, however, had diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds just like the Sox players who won it.
The leaders of Boston and the Red Sox of 2004 also had much more progressive attitudes on racial integration. The days of the elite class of Boston Brahmins or the Irish Catholics totally controlling the predominantly white city were gone. So too were the people in power of the Red Sox that prevented racial integration from happening. The Red Sox organization had new faces in nearly every senior position since 2000, boasting a new President, General Manager, Manager, and ownership (MLB). The mayor at the time, Thomas Menino, celebrated Boston’s diversity as one of the city’s biggest strengths (Boston University). Menino actively served Boston’s nonwhite community, and he was recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2006 for his efforts on changing hospital practices to create better health outcomes for minorities (Boston University). The people at the top of the team and city in 2004 did not shun diversity-- they embraced it. Change often starts at the top, as it is difficult for widespread social change to occur with leaders who reject it. The racial integration that occurred in the team and city would not have been possible without leadership that effectively promoted it.
This title winning team represented decades of progress towards achieving racial integration. The organization that had a number of nonwhite players winning the World Series was the same organization that refused to field a black even after Jackie Robinson retired. Thirty years prior to 2004 many Bostonians opposed any type of racial integration in their public school system with violence and protests. Newspapers showed a mob of white protestors beating up a black lawyer. White children learned racial slurs to scream at black students going to their schools. In 2004, newspapers showed a team and a city with people of all races coming together to celebrate the glorious moment that Boston and the Red Sox had waited for. White children lionized black and nonwhite players as the saviors and heroes who brought the city its fated World Series victory. They proudly wore David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez jerseys and looked up to them as role models. Never before had such a widespread acceptance of nonwhite athletes in Boston existed. The willingness of white Bostonians to wear their jerseys, heap praise upon them, and pledge their fandom to them exhibited a high point of racial harmony amongst the community of Boston and their beloved Red Sox. Once again we can imagine the hypothetical white Red Sox fan and young black student celebrating a racially diverse team. However, in this hypothetical, the nonwhite players are the beating hearts and principal components behind the team that delivered Sox fans to the promised land. These fans don’t go back to a world of racial violence, they go back to a community that is better integrated and accepting of nonwhite athletes. The 2004 Red Sox team’s victory mirrored the turning point in the city’s racial identity from a traditional and predominantly white city to a diverse and progressive one.
However, although this progress on racial integration was certainly remarkable, it remained imperfect. The team and city itself may have been more diverse, yet the core fanbase still seemed to be more white. In “The Search for Black Red Sox Fans” by Martenzie Johnson, the racial makeup of Red Sox fans at Fenway Park is explored. He interviews several black fans, one of whom noted “it’s always like this” when discussing the sea of white faces in the stadium (Johnson). Johnson himself even struggled to find enough black Sox fans to interview. There remained a palpable lack of black Red Sox fans attending games despite the strides made on inclusivity in the team and city. The adoration and praise heaped onto black Red Sox players like David Ortiz in Fenway Park actually came mostly from white fans. The shifts in racial attitudes of Bostonians and the racial identity of the team and city appeared to have not yet infiltrated Fenway Park. Since fans attending home games often account for the most passionate Red Sox followers, this shows that diehard fans may still be predominantly white. This juxtaposition reveals that racial incongruity still existed within the Red Sox fan base despite better racial integration within the team and city.
Boston’s and the Red Sox’s advancement and struggle with racial integration can be used as a lesson to see how the past continues to shape the city and team since 2004. On May 3rd 2017, Baltimore Orioles Outfielder Adam Jones received a standing ovation in his first at bat at Fenway Park. Sixty Red Sox fans had been ejected from the stadium just the day before for throwing peanuts and yelling racial slurs at the African American player (NBC Sports). This juxtaposition is an accurate representation of a city that still grapples with its history of deeply rooted racism. A sizable minority of bigoted Red Sox fans attempted to demean and throw off the All-Star player only for a grand majority of the stadium to give him an incredible reception the next day. It is entirely unacceptable for racist incidents like this to occur in any stadium in the United States in the present day. The people guilty of committing the heinous act may not be an accurate representation of Red Sox fans present at the game or Bostonians as a whole. However, they serve as a blemish on the strides made by Boston and the Red Sox in changing their racial identity and attitudes which calls attention to a problem that still needs to be addressed.
Winning the World Series in 2018 signified two steps forward and one step back for the team and city. The Boston Red Sox won their ninth World Series title featuring four black players in the team a year after the Adam Jones incident While four out of twenty five seems like a small number, that would have been the joint highest number of black players on any team’s 2017 MLB Opening Day active roster, and 16% is still higher than the 6.7% average in the league (The Undefeated). Once again the statistics paint the picture of a slow road to racial integration, albeit one with progress. It is also significant that the black players that the Red Sox fielded were also the main stars of the World Series, just as in 2004. Big hits from Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Junior, and Rafael Devers combined with dominant pitching from David Price to secure the ring (Hamilton.edu). Just a year after racist fans discriminated against Adam Jones, those same fans watched several black players win their cherished team another championship. A picture taken in a Boston bar shows both white and black Red Sox fans exuberantly celebrating together and sharing the joy and ecstasy of the victory (Hawaii Times). Changing the racial identity of the team and attitudes of the fans took decades, and although the team made headway in racial representation and the fans adopted more open attitudes, the actions of some blatantly racist fans gave this progress a setback. After over a century of institutionalized racism, it is unsurprising that some fans remain stuck in the past. A social movement’s road to full acceptance is a long one, so there will be bumps along the way.
Just as the Red Sox experienced complications during a demographic shift, Boston’s public education system continues to see racial disparities in the face of increased diversity. According to an American Community Survey in 2017, 52.76% of the Boston population identified as white, while 25.26% identified as Black or African American (ACS). The white population in Boston dropped by more than 40% in a 67 year period, a massive demographic shift. This same survey also reveals that white Bostonians still graduate from high school, earn a bachelor's degree, and obtain employment at a higher rate than black or African American Bostonians (ACS). The nuance in the statistics indicates that Boston has made dramatic progress in racial integration, as the city is as diverse as it has ever been in its history and inequalities in major areas between races are lower than in the past. Yet those inequalities still do exist, and it is especially an issue in areas like education where whites are nearly 25% more likely to graduate with a GED (ACS). A fair and just education system does not possess such a disparity, so there remains significant progress to be made in ensuring that Bostonians of all races have equal opportunities in education.
The gap in racial equality extends to higher education in Boston as well. According to statistics from College Factual, 45% of undergraduate students at the top five universities in the Boston area (Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, and Northeastern) identify as white, while 5% identify as black or African American (College Factual). Although the population of Boston’s white residents mirrors the population of white students, the percentage of black undergraduate students compared to Boston residents is nowhere close. The disparity is even more prominent amongst faculty members. 70% of faculty members in these same institutions identify as white, while just 5% identify as black or African American (College Factual). This population is extremely unrepresentative of the population of the city of Boston as a whole. While the city has become more racially integrated, its renowned higher education system, just as its public school system, lags behind. Present day Boston’s issue with racial integration in its education system is a testament to how good progress has been made but the issue still merits more attention.
The Red Sox make up one of the biggest parts of Boston’s identity. Like the city itself, the team has a history of obstinance to racial integration, despite the progress that has formed a more diverse and integrated team and city. Academia does not give proper attention to how racial integration has changed for Boston and the Red Sox since the 2004 World Series Title, a historic occasion for the team and city. The 2004 World Series represented a pivotal point for the Red Sox’s and Boston’s racial progress. The championship marked a new era in the racial integration of the team and city, even though some flaws remained. Following 2004, more important steps forward in racial integration occurred over the next 15 years, albeit with setbacks in the process. Future research should be done on how despite the recent diversification of Boston and the Red Sox, the Red Sox’s core fan base remains predominantly white. Additionally, academia should further examine the conspicuous racial disparities that exist in Boston’s system of higher education.