Jul-21, 1959: Red Sox Become Last Team to Integrate
On this day in 1959:
- 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional sports;
- 9 years after the Boston Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper;
- 7 years after the NFL had become fully integrated with the exception of the Washington Redsklins;
- 3 years after the NBA had become fully integrated;
- 2 years after baseball’s National League became fully integrated; and
- slightly before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination threatened to hold public hearings on the organization’s failure to employ a single African-American in any capacity
Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green completed Major League Baseball’s integration when he played as a pinch runner for the Boston Red Sox. This was only after the Red Sox passed on future Hall of Famers Robinson, Willie Mays and Billie Williams.
The Boston Red Sox and the Integration of African-American Players (Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth) recounted the details:
Although Pumpsie Green finally broke the Red Sox color barrier in 1959, the organization did not make it easy. Signed in 1956, Green had advanced through the Red Sox system, integrating some teams along the way. As spring training commenced before the 1959 season, pressure was building on the Red Sox to keep Green on the Major League roster. With Ozzie Virgil integrating the Detroit Tigers in June 1958, the Red Sox were the last Major League team to put an African-American in uniform. Green had a great spring, leading the team in hitting and voted spring training rookie of the year by Boston writers. The Boston Globe wrote: “Pumpsie Green’s performance this spring will earn him a spot on the Red Sox varsity.” Nevertheless, Manager Mike Higgins sent Green back to the minor leagues at the end of camp, explaining that “Pumpsie Green is just not ready.”
The demotion sparked a firestorm of criticism. The local chapter of the NAACP deemed the move “outrageous” and launched protests. Angry fans carried signs outside of Fenway Park declaring “We Want a Pennant, Not a White Team.” The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination also launched an investigation that ended when Red Sox General Manager Bucky Harris promised to integrate accommodations at the Sox Spring Training facilities in Scottsdale, Arizona and “make every effort to end segregation” on the team. Green would not be promoted back to the Majors until Higgins was fired and replaced with Billy Jurges later that summer, finally beginning the integration of the Boston Red Sox twelve years after Jackie Robinson first broke the color barrier.
Pumpsie Green retired in 1963 after five seasons in the big leagues, four in Boston and one as a sub for the New York Mets. He hit .246 for his career.
When the Red Sox had Green throw out the first pitch in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier, ESPN’s Howard Bryant wrote a scathing piece:
The truth is that the Red Sox own the milestone nobody should ever want. What is to be celebrated? That the Red Sox put off integrating for as long as possible. . . Even Boston’s hockey team, the Bruins, integrated before the Red Sox.
Bryant is also the author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston,
The Washington Redskins finally integrated three years later in 1962.
Green’s Career Stats:
|1953||19||WEN||A||88||2||.244||WEN · WINT|
|1954||20||WEN||A||135||6||.297||WEN · WINT|
|1955||21||STK||C||144||12||.319||STK · CALL|
|1956||22||BOS-min||A||138||3||.274||ALB · EL|
|1957||23||BOS-min||AA,Opn||150||3||42||12||.263||OKC,SFR · TL,PCL|
|1958||24||BOS-min||AAA||145||6||43||8||.253||MNE · AA|
|1959||25||BOS-min||AAA||98||7||31||11||.320||MNE · AA|
|1963||29||NYM-min||AAA||130||17||67||4||.308||BFL · IL|
|1964||30||NYM-min||AAA||139||8||61||2||.281||BFL · IL|
|1965||31||DET-NYM-min||AAA||33||3||14||0||.247||SYR,BFL · IL|
|162 Game Avg.||162||6||35||6||.246|
|BOS (4 yrs)||327||12||69||12||.244|
|NYM (1 yr)||17||1||5||0||.278|
|AL (4 yrs)||327||12||69||12||.244|
|NL (1 yr)||17||1||5||0||.278|