Winthrop native Dick O’Connell passed away in 2002, just two years before the Red Sox 86-year World Series drought ended.
It has been written that O’Connell benefitted from being a “classic outsider” in an organization marked by cronyism- Tom Yawkey’s men.
In his youth, O’Connell starred on Winthrop’s town baseball team. He then attended Boston College, graduating in 1937 and achieving a Masters Degree the following year. Along the way, like many Winthrop men, he worked as a longshoreman in the busy port of Boston.
O’Connell served in Naval Intelligence in World War 2, where he befriended renowned Boston sportscaster Jim Britt. With Britt’s help, he joined the Red Sox organization in 1947 as head of the Lynn Red Sox of the New England League and found he had a knack for business.
After the NEL folded, O’Connell joined the Sox as “home secretary” in the early 50’s and rose through the ranks. By 1960, he had achieved the title of “business manager”.
By 1965, with the team losing 100 games and drawing less than 8,000 fans per game, Yawkey was disgusted and even considered moving the team. In a very positive move, he fired Pinky Higgins as GM and hired O’Connell.
With the help of improved scouting and some sound player moves, O’Connell’s team shocked the baseball world with the Impossible Dream season just two years later.
Howard Bryant’s excellent book Shut Out, which is an examination of racism on the Sox, extols O’Connell’s abilities .”For the first time, the Red Sox were truly an integrated team that relied on players of all races to succeed.It was a by-product of his being able to develop talent without the specter of the old prejudices.
According to Bentley Athletic Director Bob DeFelice, a Winthrop product who played for the Red Sox organization for a few years, “O’ Connell was great..He treated me like a superstar..It was beyond hospitality.
Despite another pennant in 1975, Dick was fired by Jean Yawkey soon after her husband’s death in July 1976. She did not share her husband’s opinion of him and wished to put personnel decisions in the hands of Haywood Sullivan and Buddy Leroux. The move did not help the team. However, not only did O’Connell build two pennant-winning clubs, but totally changed the Red Sox image. He was twice honored as Major League Baseball Executive of the Year and is a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.Mike Passanisi is a former Pope John media relations person.