July 21

This Day in History

Sports

Jul 21, 1959:

Pumpsie Green becomes first African-American to play for Red Sox

On July 21, 1959, Elijah Jerry "Pumpsie" Green makes his Boston Red Sox debut, becoming the first African American ever to play for the Red Sox, the last team in the major leagues to integrate. Green pinch-ran for Vic Wertz and then played shortstop in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

In April 1945, the Red Sox had held a tryout for Jackie Robinson, a three-sport college star and standout Negro Leaguer who later became the first African American in the majors, but in the end opted not to sign him. Robinson went on to lead the Dodgers to six pennants and one World Series victory in his 10 seasons in Brooklyn, while the Red Sox went without a single title. Robinson was followed into the majors by Larry Doby, who made his debut with the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947, as the first American Leaguer to break the color barrier. Two years later, the Red Sox had a chance to sign legendary outfielder Willie Mays, who hit 660 career home runs and is widely considered the best center fielder in history, but again passed.

To most observers, the reasoning behind these decisions was clear: Despite their obvious talent and potential to improve Boston’s team, the franchise’s decision-makers did not want to hire black players. As the rest of the league integrated, Boston remained an all-white club for 10 more years. Along with the Philadelphia Phillies, who waited to integrate until 1957, and the Detroit Tigers, who did not hire a black player until 1958, the Red Sox floundered in the 1950s, while teams like the Dodgers, Giants, Braves and Indians spent that decade winning with black stars in the lineup.

Not surprisingly, then, it was big news when the Red Sox called on Green. He later told The Boston Globe, "One day in July I got a phone call and I was heading to Boston. Then the cameras came on." Green was a switch hitter and a good fielder who had been the Most Valuable Player of the Red Sox Triple-A farm team the year before. He got his first start for the Sox on July 24, 1959.

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.

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