The firing had long been rumored, but when it happened, it focused attention on O'Connell's accomplishments. When he moved up to general manager in 1965, the Red Sox had not played .500 ball in seven years or drawn a million fans since Ted Williams had retired in 1960. In the last 11 seasons under O'Connell, the Sox averaged 88 victories and 1.72 million customers a season.
Obviously, the firing of O'Connell and his subalterns was not for incompetence. By the time Yawkey died, it was clear that either O'Connell or Sullivan—but not the two together—was going to run the team. Neither O'Connell nor Sullivan remembers how it happened, but their once friendly relationship deteriorated until, in 1974, Sullivan, who had been vice-president for player personnel of the Sox, was kicked downstairs from the third-floor executive suite to the second-floor office of the scouting director. While Yawkey was alive, O'Connell acted as the club's chief executive. He held the power. But O'Connell's relationship with Mrs. Yawkey was not friendly. Of late the two had communicated only by notes, most of them cryptic.
O'Connell had made many friends during his 31 years in the Boston organization. Some, like Tip O'Neill, reportedly, called on Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to take a close look at the Sullivan-LeRoux deal. Rumors and innuendos about LeRoux and some of his business friends were rife. O'Connell said, "It's ironic that LeRoux is getting the team, because he was personally fired by Mr. Yawkey." Others, including LeRoux, dispute that, saying that LeRoux left the Sox to pursue business interests. Sullivan then recalled a time Yawkey tried to fire O'Connell. It became public knowledge that, since Yawkey's death, the executors had prevented O'Connell from making any major capital expenditures, thereby effectively blocking a spring-training deal for Pitcher Mike Torrez. Even the least sophisticated of Boston's maniacal fans were quick to figure out that, had Torrez' arm been in Boston rather than in New York, this year's American League East race might well have turned out differently. Soon O'Connell came to be seen as a hero who was being victimized by Sullivan and his friend, Mrs. Yawkey, and the SAVE OUR sox bumper stickers began appearing.
In his column in The New York Times two days after O'Connell's firing, Red Smith coined the name State Street Sox. He had obtained a copy of the Sullivan-LeRoux loan draft and revealed terms that included an $8 million ceiling on aggregate salaries, a 10% limit on raises for players and a right of approval for the bank on all major transactions. Suddenly one of baseball's wealthiest franchises seemed about to have its hands tied by a document full of ominous terms like default, insolvency, bankruptcy and failure to pay.
Financial writers for both Boston newspapers concluded that one bad year could, indeed, turn the team into the State Street Sox. Marvin Miller said the salary restrictions violated the contract between players and owners. Nader's FANS organization demanded that the sale be stopped. The Globe Spotlight Team then impugned the reputation of LeRoux and two limited partners and next cast doubt on LeRoux' net-worth statement, in which he claimed assets of $4.7 million.
"I've never seen so many people attacked, convicted and hurt by innuendo in such a short time," says Sullivan. "Murders, retarded kids? This is supposed to be baseball. This package is no joke. We have the money. We have all the extra cash we need. We've been made to sound like carpetbaggers. It's just the opposite. We're not in this to steal money. We're in it because we feel as strongly about the Red Sox as the most loyal fans. Do they want an outsider? A big corporation?"
It seems the American League's other owners might want just that. "There are too many good, strong potential buyers who'd love to have the Red Sox," says Selig. "A couple of owners have asked if this group realizes how unstable this business is, how much cash you often suddenly have to have. There's a survey that says Fenway must be rebuilt in five years. Can they afford that?"
Cleveland President Ted Bonda says the league vote would have been 13-0 against Sullivan and LeRoux. White Sox Board Chairman Bill DeWitt adds, "A lot of people are unhappy about the way the O'Connell thing was handled. He has a lot of friends."
"Maybe the delay is for the best," LaCour says now. "Things need to be dealt with more rationally." So, for the moment, Sullivan is the Sox general manager, LeRoux is the vice-president in charge of administration and Mrs. Yawkey is footing the bills. As general manager, Sullivan may be able to gain credibility. And now LeRoux will have a chance to convince the league that the deal he cooked up was not something off a Bert Lance scratch pad.
LaCour talks bravely of getting the A-T-O suit dismissed, but admits the Yawkey will could be tied up in probate court for months. A-T-O is trying to prove that the estate should have sold the Sox to the highest bidder, and even if it can't find a beneficiary—perhaps a nephew—to file a damage suit, it could force Mrs. Yawkey to go to court to protect her right to sell to whomever she pleases. Another possibility is that yet another buyer would purchase the club, give Sullivan 33% and make him general manager. Or Mrs. Yawkey can hold onto the franchise as long as she dares.