It takes more than courage to cure cancer


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April 24, 2007
In '67, Red Sox honored another impossible dreamer: "Jimmy"

Jimmy Fund billboard at Fenway Park

Jimmy Fund billboards like this one stood in right field at Fenway Park for decades, showing the team's commitment to the cause.

They were the youngest team in the major leagues, filled with guys who were under 25 and making considerably less than $20,000 a year. Yet when members of the 1967 Red Sox gathered in their clubhouse during the pennant race to discuss how to break up the bonus that would come their way with a World Series berth, they decided to vote a full share — about $5,500 — to someone who hadn't had a single at-bat for the club all season:

A kid named Jimmy.

Even rookies on the Boston team were well aware of the team's relationship with its official charity — the Jimmy Fund of the Children's Cancer Research Foundation (CCRF), today the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The name "Jimmy" was a pseudonym given to one of Institute founder Sidney Farber, MD's young patients to protect his privacy, and came to represent all youngsters with the disease.

Owner Tom Yawkey had banned advertising from Fenway Park around 1950, with the only exception being a Jimmy Fund billboard above the grandstand in right field. Yawkey had accepted responsibility for promoting the charity from Boston Braves owner Lou Perini (whose team had helped found it) after the Braves left town in 1953, and he took the role seriously. By '67 Yawkey was on the Board of Directors for the CCRF and making sure Red Sox broadcasters spread the word about its research and treatment efforts during each game.

"Those game announcements prompted fans to send in contributions and sponsor dances, pancake breakfasts, and hundreds of other fundraising efforts," says Mike Andrews, a rookie second baseman for the club in '67 and now chairman of the Jimmy Fund — which maintains its strong bond to the team. "Things just snowballed from there."

The Fenway billboard depicted a youngster returning to the Little League field after his treatment, but too many kids who developed cancer back in the 1960s never did so. Sox players were asked to do what they could to keep spirits high and generate fundraising dollars for the cause. They complied, meeting with young patients before games and attending events in the community when time allowed.

Nobody did more than the great Ted Williams, and when the Splendid Splinter retired, his left-field successor Carl Yastrzemski also became a leading Jimmy Fund spokesman. It was Yaz who suggested that the team honor all children fighting cancer with a portion of their championship winnings, and the vote was unanimous — "Jimmy" would get his cut.

This essay by Saul Wisnia appears in the book The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox: Pandemonium on the Field, edited by Bill Nowlin and Dan Desrochers and published in 2007 by Rounder Books.