The Jimmy Fund and Fenway Park: Partners in striking out cancer
Before there was Papi, Nomar, Dewey, or Yaz excelling at Fenway Park for the Red Sox, Jimmy was on the premises — and countless cancer survivors and their families are glad for it.
For 60 years, Fenway has been the scene of events promoting and supporting cancer research and care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund. Since the early 1950s, when Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey adopted the Jimmy Fund as the official charity of the team, Fenway Park and Dana-Farber/The Jimmy Fund — separated by less than a mile along Boston's Brookline Avenue — have maintained a special relationship. Here are some of the more powerful moments and symbols of the Fenway Park — Jimmy Fund connection as seen through the decades:
1950s and '60s
In April 1953, Yawkey takes over stewardship of the Jimmy Fund from the Boston Braves baseball club and owner Lou Perini when the Braves move to Milwaukee. The charity is named for a 12-year-old cancer patient of Dana-Farber president Sidney Farber, MD, who Dr. Farber dubs "Jimmy" to protect his privacy. Here "Jimmy" enjoys a new television purchased for him (to watch baseball games) through an early Jimmy Fund fundraising drive.
Red Sox legend Ted Williams, baseball's biggest star, emerges as the Jimmy Fund's leading spokesperson and fundraiser — regularly meeting with young patients at Fenway and accepting checks for the cause at the ballpark.
Yawkey has Jimmy Fund collection boxes posted throughout Fenway, where they remain today for fans to fill with coins and bills.
The original Jimmy Fund billboard goes up in right field at Fenway — the first advertising Yawkey has allowed at the ballpark in nearly 20 years.
Red Sox broadcasters including Curt Gowdy (right) tout the Jimmy Fund from Fenway's radio and TV booths, starting a tradition that has continued through to today's "voices" of the team. Here Gowdy is joined by boxing great "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler at a Jimmy Fund event.
The 1967 Red Sox, the "Impossible Dream Team" that thrills and fills Fenway all summer with its drive to the American League pennant, vote to award a full World Series share of $5,000-plus to the Jimmy Fund in honor of Tom and Jean Yawkey.
In 1978, Dave McGillivray runs 3,400 miles in 80 days from Oregon to Massachusetts to raise money for the Jimmy Fund — celebrating with a victory lap around Fenway on Jimmy Fund Night. The next day, 1,500 people gave nearly $20,000 to Dana-Farber in his honor.
Ken Coleman, longtime Red Sox broadcaster, is named Jimmy Fund chairman in 1978. In addition to emceeing many Fenway events benefitting Dana-Farber, he appears at countless Jimmy Fund golf tournaments and dinners throughout New England.
When the Red Sox resurface Fenway Park's 37-foot-high left field wall after the 1975 season, the old scraps are framed and sold to fans in exchange for gifts to the Jimmy Fund. Frank Sinatra earned his chunk for headlining a benefit concert for the charity.
The Jimmy Fund billboard is updated, and remains in its familiar right-field spot at Fenway.
In his last game at Fenway for the Red Sox, Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski changes his jersey each inning, and then gives all 10 to the Jimmy Fund to auction off for Dana-Farber.
Former Red Sox "Impossible Dream Team" second baseman Mike Andrews (center), groomed by Coleman, succeeds him as Jimmy Fund chairman in 1984. Andrews becomes a Fenway fixture while serving as chairman until 2009. Here he accepts a Dunkin' Donuts gift from shortstop great Nomar Garciaparra as Lee Nadler, MD, of Dana-Farber looks on.
"Jimmy Fund Fantasy Day at Fenway" — when armchair sluggers young and old get a chance to take aim at the Green Monster in exchange for gifts to Dana-Farber — debuts. Each year, young patients from Dana-Farber's Jimmy Fund Clinic are the event's biggest stars.
In a Fenway ceremony, Red Sox pitcher Bob Stanley and his wife, Joan, are given the Boston Red Sox Jimmy Fund Award — the charity's highest honor — for their support of Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund. The Stanleys' son, Kyle (in cap), is a cancer survivor and Jimmy Fund Clinic alumnus.
In 1993, Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn promises
12-year-old Jason Leader, a Jimmy Fund Clinic patient, that he'll give him a birthday gift of a home run — and then delivers on his promise that night in Anaheim. The two stay close until Leader passes away, and their families start a "Jason and Mo" team for the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk that continues to raise money each year in Jason's memory.
The original young cancer patient for whom the Jimmy Fund was named — Einar "Jimmy" Gustafson — reemerges after 50 years of anonymity (and assumed death) to throw out the first pitch before a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway on May 22, 1998. Gustafson dedicates the rest of his life to drumming up support for Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund.
2000s – Today
When right-field construction at Fenway forces the dismantling of the Jimmy Fund billboard, Red Sox management agrees to put a Jimmy Fund logo on the famous Green Monster wall in left field — where it remains to this day.
The new Red Sox ownership group of (from left) John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino continues the strong Jimmy Fund-Fenway partnership started by the Yawkeys a half-century before. Lucchino is a two-time cancer survivor treated at Dana-Farber.
The first annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon is broadcast live at Fenway in 2002. This tremendously popular August event now spans 36 hours and two Red Sox games and features on-air interviews with survivors, family members and Dana-Farber staff. The Radio-Telethon has raised more than $31 million for cancer research and care since its inception.
Cancer survivors, physicians, researchers, and nurses all get a chance to walk on the hallowed lawn at various Fenway events, including this contingent of young and young-at-heart survivors celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Red Sox-Jimmy Fund relationship in 2003.
A statue of Ted Williams placing a Red Sox cap on the head of a young cancer patient is unveiled at Fenway in 2004, and the Red Sox go on to win the World Series that October for the first time in 86 years. Coincidence?
Riders in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) bike-a-thon take a lap at Fenway in 2009 to celebrate their 25th anniversary event — in which cyclists pedaled up to 192 miles from Sturbridge to Provincetown, backed by fundraising pledges to Dana-Farber. The world's largest annual sports-related fundraiser, the PMC has resulted in $338 million in gifts through 2011.
Starting in 2010 with Clay Buchholz (left) and Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox name two Jimmy Fund Co-Captains each season to pitch in and build support for adult and pediatric cancer care and research at Dana-Farber and raise awareness of Jimmy Fund fundraising events and programs at Fenway and throughout Red Sox Nation. The 2012 co-captains were Daniel Bard and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
— Saul Wisnia