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Happy Pumpsie Green Day

Jul 21, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT

Pumpsie Green

We celebrate April 15 as Jackie Robinson day for obvious reasons.  I feel like we should celebrate July 21 as Pumpsie Green Day. For on that day in 1959, Green became the last guy to become the first African American to play for a team in the majors.

Some team had to be the last team to integrate, and that team happened to be the Boston Red Sox. The reason — unless you happen to think that when they scouted Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays they simply didn’t see baseball talent there — is pretty much the team’s undeniable legacy of racial intolerance. Which isn’t my term, actually. It’s the term Red Sox President Larry Lucchino used when he spoke to NPR on the matter back in 2002. Tom Yawkey was racist even by the standards of his era and it’s pretty hard to see the team’s late arrival to the integration party as anything but a function of that. Heck, some have argued that moves the team was making into the 1970s were still a function of that.

But Pumpsie Green Day — which isn’t a day and isn’t, as far as I know, noted all that much officially by the Red Sox — shouldn’t be about shaming dead old Tom Yawkey. It should be about Green, who eventually played five seasons in the majors, hitting .246 with 13 homers and 74 RBI. And his achievement of course. No, it was not as notable a historic achievement to be the last first as it was to be the first first. But on that team in that city at that time, it was not nothing either. And even if Robinson’s debut ended baseball’s segregation era, Green’s debut killed the hangover.

  1. Ayase Yano (綾瀬市 矢野) - Jul 21, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    Nice name.

    • jfk69 - Jul 22, 2014 at 3:35 AM

      I have his NY MET baseball card to this day. I loved that name.
      yes NY met baseball card..Not Boston

  2. rgledz - Jul 21, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    Chris, it says “he’s the fist guy”. Sounds a bit ominous.

    • nbjays - Jul 21, 2014 at 10:50 AM

      Is he related to Dog Fister? And who is Chris?

  3. rgledz - Jul 21, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    Chris, it says “he’s the fist guy”. Sounds a bit ominous.

  4. t3288 - Jul 21, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    I believe the first 2 black Red Soxs were actually green. Pumpsie and Lenny. could be wrong

    • jwbiii - Jul 21, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      Earl Wilson was the second, 7/28/59 debut.

    • yankeefan1950 - Jul 21, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      You not only could be wrong, you are. Lenny Green was a very good center fielder with the Orioles and Senators with a brief stop with the Angels before arriving in Boston in 1965.

  5. felser - Jul 21, 2014 at 10:15 AM

    Green would have had a much more significant career today. He drew a LOT of walks, and his .721 OPS was pretty exceptional for a MI in that era. Just for a quick, random comparison, Luis Aparicio had a .653 OPS, and lasted 20 years. Sox also had a 2B named Don Buddin who they dumped after the 1961 season despite a .394 OBP.

    • dan1111 - Jul 21, 2014 at 10:28 AM

      Perhaps his on-base skills would have been a bit more appreciated now, but he was still a mediocre hitter who was no more than average defensively at 2B.

      On the other hand, Aparicio was the sixth most valuable defensive player ever by WAR. It’s not really a fair comparison.

  6. hushbrother - Jul 21, 2014 at 10:18 AM

    They had a Pumpsie Green day at Fenway a couple years ago. He threw out the first pitch, they gave him a plaque or something, etc. And of course, Howard Bryant chimed in that Red Sox fans should still be feeling guilty about the team’s poor historic record on civil rights.

    • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      Boston has a lot to feel guilty about on that score.

      • dan1111 - Jul 21, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        Everyone should be disgusted by the racist history, but why should people who were not involved feel guilty?

      • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 11:24 AM

        A. Because some of those people are still with us today.
        B. It’s important to take a stand opposing such things to reaffirm our values.
        C. People today still benefit from the legacy of, so no one is really “not involved.”

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 21, 2014 at 1:20 PM

        Yeah I agree with dan. I certainly appreciate what guys like Pumpsie Green had to go through, I understand the importance of what he did, and recognize the need to keep it in the public conscience to avoid it ever happening again, but I don’t see why I should feel guilty.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 2:43 PM

        Yeah, because everything is totally equal today. Nope, no more racial problems at all.

      • Reflex - Jul 21, 2014 at 2:56 PM

        asimonetti88 – Because you directly benefit from the racism and prejudice of the past, even today. Someone on these forums pointed out the generational wealth effect of the GI Bill and its education and home loan benefits and how it set up generations for success in the 50’s and 60’s while being almost exclusively a benefit for white people due to the exclusion of most blacks from military service and benefits.

        Much of what we benefit from today is due to racial policies of the past. Whether we were directly involved, immigrated later or otherwise had nothing personally to do with it it does not change the fact that white people benefit from a system they designed for themselves and maintained that way for hundreds of years to the detriment of others.

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 21, 2014 at 3:12 PM

        “Yeah, because everything is totally equal today. Nope, no more racial problems at all.”

        Where did anyone besides you suggest that?

      • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 3:19 PM

        I was being sarcastic. You were the one suggesting you don’t have reason to consider yourself “involved” in discrimination.

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 21, 2014 at 3:25 PM

        I am? Do you know something about me that I don’t?

      • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 3:26 PM

        I’m just working from your comment here. Have a nice day.

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 21, 2014 at 3:44 PM

        Drive-by racism accusation. Nice.

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Jul 21, 2014 at 4:28 PM

        Perhaps Histo, but on the other hand, in 1958 the Boston Bruins became the first NHL team to send a black player onto the ice: Willie O’Ree.

  7. historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    In the same vein, I always feel like Ole Miss didn’t really desegregate in 1962. It really happened ten years later in 1972, when they finally got their first black football player.

    • asimonetti88 - Jul 21, 2014 at 1:25 PM

      It was probably accelerated by USC’s epic beatdown of Alabama in 1970.

      • 18thstreet - Jul 21, 2014 at 4:48 PM

        Pretty sure the Texas Western defeat of Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA (basketball) final should have been sufficient. Or the fact the NL Rookies of the Year, following Jackie Robinson, included — in consecutive years! — Don Newcombe, Sam Jethroe, Willie Mays, Joe Black, and Jim Gilliam. But racists will always find a way to say, “Not now.” Some things are more important than winning.

        In totally unrelated news, Tony Dungy says he wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam because it would have been too big a distraction.

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 21, 2014 at 5:03 PM

        Tony Dungy is a noted bigot.

  8. randygnyc - Jul 21, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    Reparations!!!!

  9. 18thstreet - Jul 21, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    The Red Sox were thoroughly racist organization well into the 1980s. If they ever had more than one or two black players, it didn’t last for long.

    And, in completely related news, they went 86 years without winning a World Series. I think it’s telling that Ted Williams — who was not a political liberal — used his Hall of Fame induction speech to call for the inclusion of Negro Leaguers in Cooperstown. I don’t know a lot about how he came to this opinion, but I’m guessing that he knew that he might have played in more than one World Series if only his team’s owner had desegregated sooner.

    Dan Duquette deserves credit for putting an end to this nonsense. I never thought I’d see a day when the Red Sox’ most popular players — Pedro and Papi among them — would have dark skin.

    • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      The Tigers weren’t much ahead in a lot of ways. Ozzie Virgil didn’t join them until ’58 — and he was Dominican.

      • 18thstreet - Jul 21, 2014 at 12:27 PM

        Interesting. I’ve found it interesting how the Red Sox are — appropriately — scolded for their late integration, but it’s amazing how many other teams and institutions were right there with them. I recently learned that the University of Maryland’s athletics program wasn’t integrated until 1963 I could have the year slightly off). And that was the first school in the ACC to field a black athlete.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 12:42 PM

        Well, it’s not like Detroit has a great record on race.

      • philliesblow - Jul 21, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        The Tigers first “true” African American player was Larry Doby in 1959, 12 years after he broke the AL color barrier with Cleveland.

    • dwaynehosey - Jul 21, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      While the fact that the Red Sox where the last team to integrate is undeniable, as is their failure to sign Willy Mays and Jackie Robinson after tryouts, calling them racist into the 1980s is more about repeating urban legand than making a factually supported statement. Stars of the 1967 World Series team included Elston Howard, Reggie Smith, George Scott and Joe Foy. The 1975 World Series team included homegrown stars Jim Rice and Cecil Cooper. Other African-Americans the Sox traded for in the 1960s and 70s included Tommy Harper, Bob Watson and Ferguson Jenkins (OK, he’s Canadian). And of course there were numerous black Latino players from Luis Tiant to Tony Perez to Roger Moret.

      The City of Boston’s national reputation for racial intollerence was earned by the shameful reaction to court ordered school bussing in the mid-seventies. Local sports teams’ reputations were unfairly tied to this. Even the Celtics, the first NBA team to have an African American coach, and winners of the 1980-1981 championship with four African-American starters were subject to whispers of being a racist organization.

      • 18thstreet - Jul 21, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        I think it’s telling how few of the players you mentioned from 1967 were still around in 1975. And I can’t speak to details, but a couple of the players you mentioned — Tommy Harper and Reggie Smith — thought the racial situation in Boston was intolerable. Smith was vocal about it; Harper was not.

        http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120229&content_id=26916854&vkey=news_bos&c_id=bos

      • 18thstreet - Jul 21, 2014 at 12:41 PM

        The Celtics, I think, were considered racist because the 1985-86 championship team was incredibly white. It was an incredibly ignorant thing that some people believed, and totally ahistorical. The Celtics were the first team to draft a black player, the first to play five black players at once, the first to have a black head coach … I mean, they’re the Dodgers of the NBA. And, it turned out, not being racist was something of a winning strategy. It’s an impressive legacy.

        I guess the critics would have said that the 1985-86 squad should have cut ties with Hall of Famer Larry Bird, Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, Hall of Famer Bill Walton, Scott Wedman, or Danny Ainge to allay those concerns. Or maybe they could have hired one of the only African-American head coach in the NBA.

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 21, 2014 at 5:17 PM

        While that Celtics team was incredibly white, it was also incredibly good. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale are Hall of Famers, Bird is probably a top 3 all-time player, McHale is a top 5 all-time PF. Danny Ainge was an All-Star caliber guard. Bill Walton was no longer playing at a Hall of Fame level but had that capability in him.

        The 1985-86 Boston Celtics team is one of the few teams that can arguably be called the best single-season team in NBA history. And this is coming from a diehard Lakers fan that despises the Celtics.

        By the way, the coach of that team was KC Jones, who is African-American.

    • asimonetti88 - Jul 21, 2014 at 5:12 PM

      One needs to be a political liberal to believe in desegregation?

      • 18thstreet - Jul 21, 2014 at 6:07 PM

        Then? Yes.

        Barry Goldwater made that clear when he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and campaigned on it.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 6:23 PM

        Yes.

        http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberalism

      • asimonetti88 - Jul 22, 2014 at 10:40 AM

        Gee, and here I was thinking I was a libertarian all this time, turns out I was a liberal! Thanks for redefining my life for me guys!

    • historiophiliac - Jul 21, 2014 at 6:32 PM

      Isn’t it fascinating how people want the market to dictate change in Cleveland (ie when the fans stop buying Wahoo, then the team should drop it — let people demand change through their economic power), but no one argues for fans to have culpability when change doesn’t take place (it’s management that was bigoted).

  10. natstowngreg - Jul 21, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    I commend to you David Halberstam’s “October 1964″ (1994). It’s about the 1964 Cards and Yankees, one rising, one falling. Part of the narrative is about how the AL fell behind the NL in the 1960s because AL teams were behind in signing black and Latino players, often on purpose.

  11. ajbaxter1975 - Jul 22, 2014 at 1:31 AM

    Listen to 18thstreet, kids, you could learn something..

  12. jfk69 - Jul 22, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    Craig
    This post by you be it historical in nature is great. Back in the day when I collected,flipped,traded and matched baseball cards I came across Pumpsie Green as a MET. I was a young die hard Yankee fan and to this day did not know the significance of who Pumpsie was. I just loved that name.
    I think he was listed as a third basemen for the Mets. Anyway…Till the Mets got Ed Charles, the glider. I used to say…You are no Pumpsie Green. Loved that name. I now know who Mr. Green really was.
    Thanks for the memories
    jk

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