It was not easy to find supporters of John Harrington in the late 90's. Unofficially, Harrington was CEO of the Red Sox. Officially, however, he headed only the Yawkey Trust, which took over the team after Tom Yawkey's death in 1976. After much bickering and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the triumvirate of Harrington, Haywood Sullivan and Jean Yawkey emerged as, in effect, heads of the front office. Following Jean's death in 1992, Harrington succeeded in buying Sullivan's shares. In 94, he appointed Dan Duquette as GM. Though the duo improved the team in many ways, their PR image was cold and distant.
In a piece entitled "Harrington priorities dubious", Dan Shaughnessy aimed sharp criticism in March 99 of Harrington's situation. "Now we have Harrington, keeper of the Yawkey Trust, getting to play with big league owners, even though he doesn't have big league money. Harrington worked for and befriended Tom and Jean Yawkey back in the early 70's and has been the trustee and majority general partner of the ball club since Jean died."
Harrington's position, like the man himself, was a bit mysterious. His Wikipedia biography lists John's birthdate "in the late 1930's". His career varied- BA and MBA from Boston College, accounting professor at BC, American League controller under Joe Cronin, and finally team treasurer. After some work in the private sector, he returned to the Sox in the mid-80's and became JRY administrator.
Never one to mince words, Shaughnessy called the Sox "an Ozlike Corporation, a faceless file cabinet filled with stock certificates and the Yawkey wills…He gets to play owner, and a Herald report last week charged that 'he was personally reaped millions of dollars from the JRY Estate and the charitable foundation of her and her husband Tom' (those charges were never proven). Dan goes on to criticize Harrington's failure to sell the team despite often vowing to do so. He also mentions a Harrinton statement that "I take my fiduciary responsibilites very seriously….the foundations have helped thousands of people throughout Massachusetts and the US and the legacy of Tom and Jean Yawkey that the trustees hold in trust."
This legal jargon was not what the fans and writers wanted to hear. Though the Harrington-Duquette regime was responsible for acquiring stars like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe, the team was generally competitive but not great. Playoff appearences in 95 and 98 had ended in the first round. Popular slugger Mo Vaughn had been allowed to become bitter and walk away. "There is no accountabiliy in the owner's box, " Shaughnessy concluded. The Yawkey Tower image of the team angered many fans, though Fenway was still full most of the time.
Not until the Trust sold the team to the Henry-Werner-Lucchino group in 02 (and Duquette was let go) did the criticism die down. Apparently a good and decent man, Harrington appeared to be a bit over his head much of the time. He is now retired, in his mid-70's, and stays totally out of the limelight. His only mention in recent years was his reception of an honorary degree from his alma mater in 2010.
Unlike Tom and Jean and former partner Sullivan, Harrington has lived to see the Sox "break the Curse" and win three titles. How Harrington feels about their success is hard to tell. He may regret he did not get out a bit sooner.
The Yawkey name was attached to the Sox for nearly 70 years without a championship. Since it disappeared, there have been three World Series titles. Makes you think.