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Happy Pumpsie Green Day!

Jul 21, 2011, 2:00 PM EDT

Pumpsie Green

We all know to celebrate the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, but there were 15 other teams that existed during baseball’s segregated days which later came to see the light.

Eventually anyway.  The Red Sox were the last, fielding their first black player on this day in 1959. His name was Pumpsie Green. Still is, actually, as he’s still alive and — if Wikipedia is to be believed — living in El Cerrito, California.

Green was a pinch runner on July 21, 1959 but eventually played five seasons in the majors, hitting .246 with 13 homers and 74 RBI. He and a teammate once abandoned the Red Sox during a trip to New York and weren’t seen for three days, when they were spotted trying to board a plane for Israel without passports.  That’s also from the Wikipedia page, so you know, I’m going to assume it’s true. And kinda neat in a Lost Weekend sort of way.

Why did it take so long for the Red Sox to get Green — or any other black player — on the field?  To use the words of Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, who spoke to NPR on the matter back in 2002, it had everything to do with the Red Sox’ “undeniable legacy of racial intolerance.” That intolerance led them to cut short a tryout of Jackie Robinson in 1945 and to pass on Willie Mays a few years later. So many missed opportunities for Boston.

But just because they were slow to join the modern world doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recognize Pumpsie Green. I’m not saying every Red Sox player should wear number 12 for the day or anything, but three cheers for Pumpsie are in order, right?

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Jul 21, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    So the Red Sox didn’t sign a black baseball player for 12 years after Jackie Robinson’s debut? And people wonder why they didn’t win a World Series from 1918 to 2004? It wasn’t the curse of Babe Ruth. It was karma biting them in the ass.

    • jimbo1949 - Jul 21, 2011 at 2:54 PM

      Must be the Babe’s ghost giving you thumbs down.

    • The Baseball Idiot - Jul 21, 2011 at 2:59 PM

      They signed several black players, who spent time in the minors. Green was the first to appear in the Majors.

      It doesn’t excuse Boston, but it is two different things.

      • fquaye149 - Jul 21, 2011 at 8:10 PM

        Of course, there’s that apocryphal (or is it confirmed?) story of Joe Cronin’s Red Sox giving Willie Mays a tryout only to keep his back turned the whole time. So the OP is right in theory.

        Of course, I wouldn’t call that karma so much as the result of willingly depriving oneself of some of the best players in the game

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Jul 21, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    It’s always nice to see so many thumbs down and not a single comment as to why.

    To all the Red Sox fans out there who I may have offended, I want to extend my deepest apologies and tell you all that I was wrong. I am sure the reason the Red Sox didn’t win a World Series was solely the curse of the Bambino and had nothing to do with Karma. Really.

    Oh, and how commendable of the Red Sox to finally let a black guy pinch-run halfway through the 1959 season, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

    • Glenn - Jul 21, 2011 at 4:00 PM

      Chris – it can’t be a coincidence that the Red Sox went so long between championships and were the last team to play a black man. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with this. On the flip side, why didn’t some team grab all of the available black players after Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby? Only racism and the fear of fan backlash because of racism prevented it. They could have dominated MLB for years with an all-black all-star team. The Sox weren’t the only ones to pass on Willie Mays et al, they were just the worst offenders.

  3. theonlynolan - Jul 21, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    That it took until 1959 for the Red Sox to integrate is the biggest black eye on the organization’s long history. In addition, it is inexcusable that Tom Yawkey has a plaque in Cooperstown while Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, a more successful executive, does not. The racist mindset of Yawkey set the franchise back at least a decade.

  4. tuftsb - Jul 21, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    For some historical background on the issue, read “Shut Out” by Howard Bryant.

    • natstowngreg - Jul 21, 2011 at 6:49 PM

      Also, read David Halberstam’s “October 1964.” Has good perspective on how the NL surpassed the AL because it had more teams willing to sign black players. It also describes how the 1964 Cardinals were able to come together as an integrated team and win the World Series.

  5. fenwaywest - Jul 21, 2011 at 4:22 PM

    The Red Sox actually had a tryout for Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays! But racist owner Tom Yawkey was said to have yelled, ” get those n*****ers off of the field.” I am as big a Sox fan as there is and I agree that racism is the main reason that the Sox went so long without a W.S. championship.

  6. The Common Man - Jul 21, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    And yet, the Sox still integrated before integration was ok in many places in this country. This doesn’t excuse their racism, or that of MLB in general for keeping blacks out until 1947, but it is gratifying that baseball was on the front line of the fight for equal rights.

    • The Common Man - Jul 21, 2011 at 5:17 PM

      And on the right side, I should say.

  7. Ari Collins - Jul 21, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    It’s not karma that kept the Red Sox from winning for so long. It was poor management. The morality of racism aside, it’s just bad business, shutting yourself off from a talent pipeline.

    I’m a Red Sox fan, but the Yawkey years were not the franchise’s shining era.

  8. professor59 - Jul 21, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    There were lots of MLB cities back then who wouldn’t support a black player. And of course, the team culture was a big part of it too. According to Richie Ashburn, Boston, Cincinnati and Philadelphia were the worst. Not the fans, but the players would be yelling racial epithets at anyone on a team with a black player.

    Even pinch-running must have felt like a life-risking play.

    I guess it would be a lot like being gay on a team with Kobe today. :)

  9. sicknsexified - Jul 22, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    Tom Yawkey , was beyond racist and the owner of the Red Sox at that time .. And me being a half african american person living in Boston there are a lot of older people with the same views as Yawkey, no i do not blame them fully because that is the environment they lived in years ago and are still stuck in that era.

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