The Emperor Has No Clothes, part 2

When John Harrington returned to the Red Sox front office in January 1981, the Sox were jointly controlled by three general partners: Jean Yawkey, Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux. Since any two of the general partners could combine to impose their will on the third, the situation was inherently unstable.

Out of public view, Red Sox ownership was bitterly divided. Yawkey and Sullivan wanted to run the club as Tom Yawkey had, fielding the best possible lineup regardless of cost. Buddy LeRoux and Rodgers Badgett, the largest limited partner, had other ideas.

Badgett wrote Mrs. Yawkey a pointed memo insisting that ''the return or yield on investment, tax shelter and other more tangible benefits of our investment should be accorded by far the greatest weight” in Sox business decisions. An indignant Yawkey responded that her objective for the Sox had always been clear: “namely, to produce a championship-caliber baseball team using all resources available."

Since Yawkey and Sullivan could outvote LeRoux, and Badgett had no vote, the dissenters appeared stymied. LeRoux secretly explored the possibility of buying the Cleveland Indians and moving them to Tampa. LeRoux and Badgett then negotiated to sell their interests to communications magnate David Mugar and his partner Carl Yastrzemski. Upon learning of these negotiations, Yawkey and Sullivan immediately claimed that the partnership agreement entitled them to buy LeRoux’s interest for themselves. They pressured Albert Curran, the Sox general counsel and a LeRoux ally, to resign his position. Curran did, but immediately closeted himself with LeRoux and Badgett to plot their next move. What followed was one of the ugliest incidents in Boston sports history.

June 6, 1983 was Tony Conigliaro Night at Fenway Park. Conigliaro was Boston’s tragic hero. The youngest man ever to hit 100 home runs, Conigliaro (a hometown boy born in Revere and raised in Lynn) sustained a horrendous beaning in August 1967. The incident virtually ended his career, as lingering vision problems stalled several attempted comebacks, but Conigliaro remained a huge local favorite. Early in 1982 he auditioned for a spot in the Sox TV booth. Two days later he suffered a massive heart attack and lapsed into a coma. Now Conigliaro lay bedridden in a nearby hospital, his insurance exhausted. As all New England watched, Conigliaro’s friends and admirers gathered at Fenway to celebrate the 1967 “Impossible Dream” season -- and to help keep Tony alive.

Buddy LeRoux shattered the mood. At a hastily arranged press conference before a roomful of astonished reporters and former players, he announced that he had taken control of the Sox from Sullivan and Jean Yawkey. LeRoux explained that he, Badgett and Curran, who collectively owned 16 of the 30 limited partnership units, had voted to reorganize the partnership with LeRoux as managing general partner. For his first official act, LeRoux fired Haywood Sullivan as general manager, replacing him with Dick O’Connell. His audience gaped.

LeRoux spent half an hour explaining his plans for the team. When he was through, and before the media could catch its collective breath, publicity director Dick Bresciani announced another press conference. In came Sullivan, Harrington and their attorneys. Denouncing LeRoux’s actions as an illegal coup, they insisted that the Sullivan/Yawkey faction alone spoke for the Sox. And Tony Conigliaro lay in his hospital bed, nearly forgotten amidst the chaos.

As the battle for control of the Sox headed to court, AL president Lee MacPhail announced that until the litigation was resolved, the league would continue to recognize the authority of the Sullivan-Yawkey faction. Manager Ralph Houk expected to be fired if LeRoux won control. Caught in the middle, the players didn’t know what to think, but the distractions took their toll. The Sox, who had been leading the division with a 28-22 record when LeRoux made his announcement, went 50-62 over the rest of the season to finish sixth, with their first losing record in 17 years.

The Sox had become the laughingstock of baseball for the first time since the Harry Frazee era. With two “owners” and two “general managers,” the club was paralyzed. Both sides pressed for an immediate trial.

At that trial, John Harrington was the star witness. His overlapping roles as vice president of Yawkey Associates, vice president of the JRY (Jean R. Yawkey) Corp., trustee of the Jean R. Yawkey Trust and player relations consultant to the Red Sox had allowed Harrington to participate in all the infighting. Now, testifying for Sullivan and Yawkey, he walked the court through the Sox ownership dispute. As Harrington testified about the correspondence between the feuding parties, the effect a LeRoux/Badgett victory would have on the Sox became frighteningly apparent.

Badgett made clear that to him, profits would always be more important than pennants. "When each player's contract comes up for renegotiation, it would seem that the general partners should be well aware that under an overall, long-range, plan there is a price beyond which the club cannot go under any circumstances.” Yawkey responded that “producing a first-class product, a competitive, championship-caliber baseball team, managed properly, will result in profits to all . . . Cash distributions, the investments for the future, the won-loss record, the fan attendance, the club standing, can hardly be viewed by anyone familiar with the baseball industry as disappointing operating results.”

Sox fans cheered Mrs. Yawkey’s sentiment. But some were troubled when Harrington testified that he, not LeRoux, had first contacted David Mugar about investing in the Sox – and more eyebrows raised when Mugar contradicted a key part of Harrington’s testimony.

According to Harrington, he warned Mugar early during his negotiations with LeRoux that he would never acquire any part of the Sox. If Mugar made an offer for LeRoux’s shares, he told Mugar, Sullivan and Yawkey would exercise their right to buy the stock themselves.

Mugar unequivocally denied having such a conversation with Harrington, and his story rings truer. A warning from Harrington would have alerted Mugar that his negotiations with LeRoux were a waste of time, since the talks would only set the price Sullivan and Yawkey would pay for LeRoux’s stock. Why would a businessman continue to negotiate under those circumstances?

But the court didn’t have to address this conflict to resolve the dispute. Sullivan and Yawkey prevailed on a straightforward application of partnership law: limited partners, such as Badgett and Curran, had no right to interfere with management of the Red Sox partnership, by majority vote or otherwise.

In December 1985, Badgett, Curran and LeRoux sold their 16 limited partnership units for $17 million. Jean Yawkey and three other partners bought ten of the shares, with the Red Sox repurchasing the other six.

Two years later LeRoux sold his general partnership to Jean Yawkey for $7 million -- a sale which gave Mrs. Yawkey effective control of the Sox, with two votes to Haywood Sullivan’s one. If the Yawkey/Sullivan/LeRoux troika had been inherently unstable; the new arrangement potentially heralded a one-woman dictatorship

Sure enough, the Yawkey-Sullivan alliance soon deteriorated as Yawkey outvoted her GM on all disputes. In the January 27, 1991 Boston Globe, an anonymous insider fingered Harrington as the source of the problems. "Nobody really knows what happened between Mrs. Yawkey and Sullivan," said the source. "When Harrington showed up, that's when things got worse between the two sides.”

Jean Yawkey died on February 26, 1992. She and her husband had owned the Sox for fifty-nine years. But her JRY Corporation still owned two of the three general partnership units -- and the JRY corporation was controlled by one John Harrington. The era of Harrington’s unaccountable authority had begun.

Copyright © 1999 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the May 1999 issue of Boston Baseball.

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