Like a lot of other New Englanders, what Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux wanted more than anything in the world was to own the Boston Red Sox. Their story was a chapter out of the American Dream. Sullivan, a former backup catcher, and LeRoux, an ex-trainer, had a deal all set to purchase the club for which they once worked. Their dream was about to come true because Sullivan is a close friend of Jean Yawkey, the widow of the late Boston owner, and because LeRoux had figured out a way that the two of them could put up $200,000 of a $15 million price and get 52% of the franchise.
But by the time last week's dates for signing the final papers and obtaining American League approval of the sale had passed, Sullivan's and LeRoux' dream was semi-shattered. They were running the Red Sox but they did not own them. Jean Yawkey still does—and probably will for some time. A lawsuit by Ohio-based A-T-0 Inc., the high bidder in September's unusual public auction of the club, postponed the request for approval from the league's 13 other owners. But even without the suit, indications were that Sullivan and LeRoux would not have received the O.K.
"This isn't Cleveland, it's Boston," says Milwaukee President Bud Selig, chairman of the league finance committee. "This is the most important franchise in the American League, and we can't afford to let it be underfinanced or second rate. The situation is a mess. It seems inconceivable that what Tom Yawkey built could come to this."
This included A-T-O's attempt to gain control of the Red Sox in court, public derision of the Sullivan-LeRoux financial arrangements (one newspaper described them as a "48-month car loan") and a power struggle that could be traced back to office politics under Tom Yawkey. This also included New England's reaction to what was perceived as a threat to the region's most beloved institution, the Red Sox.
There were SAVE OUR SOX bumper stickers and a radio program called Boston Red Sox, Boston Red Sox that reviewed the daily travails of Haywood and Buddy. Boston's two papers, the Herald American and Globe, staged an old-fashioned news war, deploying political, sports and financial columnists to analyze the sale; cartoonists to lampoon the staid State Street Bank and Trust Company, which was to provide financing for the Sullivan-LeRoux deal; and Woodward-Bernstein types to dig up dirt on the various principals. One undercover group, the Globe's Spotlight Team, pointed out that one of Sullivan's and LeRoux' 11 general partners had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury regarding a murder and a bankruptcy and charged another with conflict of interest in the appropriation of state funds for handicapped children. A third partner had previously been accused of another conflict of interest in a kickback scandal.
Amid all this, politicians, including House Speaker Tip O'Neill, jumped into the debate, as did Players Association director Marvin Miller and Ralph Nader. "If nuclear war were to break out, it would only make page two in Boston," said Red Sox Publicist Bill Crowley.
When Yawkey died in July 1976, the Red Sox became part of his estate. In effect, the executors of the Yawkey will—his wife and his two lawyers, Joseph LaCour of New York and James Curran of Palo Alto, Calif.—were now the team's owners. Mrs. Yawkey reportedly wanted to keep the Sox, but advisers felt that, should she die soon—she is in her mid-60s—the estate and team would be ravaged by taxes. So, in April, the executors let it be known that the estate would entertain bids for the Red Sox.
Throughout the past summer they interviewed prospective bidders, discouraging most of them, and on Sept. 1 offers were submitted. A-T-O, which owns Rawlings Sporting Goods, was high bidder at $18.75 million. Two Boston businessmen, Marty Stone and Jack Satter, offered some $16 million apiece, while Sullivan and LeRoux reportedly bid about $15 million.
On Sept. 29 the executors announced that the Sullivan-LeRoux group had been awarded the team. For their $200,000, the two managing partners would receive 52% of the club. Among the limited partners were concessionaire H. M. Stevens Inc. and Mrs. Yawkey. Except for a few questions raised by other owners, very little was said about the sale for the next three weeks.
Then, on Oct. 24, just 10 days before the scheduled meeting for league approval, the Sullivan-LeRoux dream suddenly became a nightmare. To "clear the way for Sullivan and LeRoux," the executors fired General Manager Dick O'Connell and his two lieutenants. Assistant GM John Claiborne and Vice-President Gene Kirby. Says LeRoux, "As Dick was leaving, he turned and said, 'Are you prepared for this?' I didn't understand what he meant. I do now. We weren't."