The Boston Red Sox want to confront their racist past and change the name of iconic Yawkey Way.

The street, a two-block portion of public roadway that runs in front of Fenway Park, is named for Tom Yawkey, who owned the team from 1933 until his death in 1976, and whose widow and family trust owned it until 2002.

Yawkey's tenure is tainted by a racist legacy which includes the franchise being the last Major League team to integrate in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the majors.

John Henry, who purchased the team from the Yawkeys, told the Boston Herald he is "haunted" by the racist legacy that lingers from Yawkey's ownership and the time is right for change.

In an email to the Herald, Henry said:

"I discussed this a number of times with the previous mayoral administration and they did not want to open what they saw as a can of worms," Henry wrote. "There are a number of buildings and institutions that bear the same name. The sale of the Red Sox by John Harrington helped to fund a number of very good works in the city done by the Yawkey Foundation [we had no control over where any monies were spent]. The Yawkey Foundation has done a lot of great things over the years that have nothing to do with our history."

Big Papi Way

Henry said he would like to see it changed to David Ortiz Way or Big Papi Way, in honour of the Dominican Republic-born Red Sox great who retired following last season. A portion of the street was named David Ortiz Drive in his honour this past June.

"The Red Sox don't control the naming or renaming of streets," Henry said. "But for me, personally, the street name has always been a consistent reminder that it is our job to ensure the Red Sox are not just multi-cultural, but stand for as many of the right things in our community as we can — particularly in our African-American community and in the Dominican community that has embraced us so fully. The Red Sox Foundation and other organizations the Sox created such as Home Base have accomplished a lot over the last 15 years, but I am still haunted by what went on here a long time before we arrived."

"It's a continuation of John's strong feelings about tolerance and inclusion and making sure that everyone in Boston and New England feels welcome at Fenway Park," Red Sox president Sam Kennedy told The Associated Press. "This is just the beginning of a process that will involve the community."

Yawkey came into his inheritance in 1933 at the age of 30 and promptly bought into the all-white sport of major league baseball.

Then he did what he could to keep it that way.

Passed on Robinson, Mays

As other teams abandoned the colour barrier, the Red Sox held out, giving Robinson a tryout and scouting Willie Mays but opting to sign neither. The club eventually signed Pumpsie Green as its first black player in 1959 — more than a decade after Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers and after even Willie O'Ree took the ice for the Boston Bruins as the first black player in the NHL.

Yawkey owned the club until his death in 1976, when his wife, Jean, took control. She died and left the ballclub in the care of a foundation that bore their name; trustee John Harrington ran the team until it was sold to Henry and his partners in 2002.

"When we got here in 2002, one of the first things (Henry) did was acknowledge the shameful past in terms of race relations and inclusion," Kennedy said.

Even this season, the team has struggled to make the ballpark feel welcoming to minorities. In May, Kennedy apologized to Orioles outfielder Adam Jones after he said a fan called him a racist slur. The Red Sox also distanced themselves from their flagship radio broadcaster, because hosts doubted Jones's version of the events.

The team must petition the city of Boston to change the name.

With files from The Associated Press