Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21, 1959: 'Bout time

CHICAGO - Back in 1945, the Boston Red Sox brought several Negro Leagues stars, including Jackie Robinson, for a workout. The stated reason for the tryout was that Boston was looking for somebody to sign to help integrate Major League Baseball. The real reason for the workout, though, was to placate Boston City Councilman Isadore Muchnick, who was strongly against segregation. During the workout, Robinson was subject to racial epithets, despite the fact that the only people in the stands were Red Sox team management. He left Boston humiliated.

Other black stars likely would have ended up with the Red Sox if it weren't for institutional-wide racism. The Red Sox had a scout watching a young Willie Mays in Birmingham, but after a few days of bad weather postponed the games, the scout left, saying he "wasn't going to wait around for a bunch of n-----s." Boston also had a beat on future hall-of-famer Billy Williams when he was in college before dropping their interest without explanation.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when the 1959 season began, 12 years after Robinson's successful debut with Brooklyn and after he had already retired, the Red Sox remained the only Major League team that hadn't integrated its roster. They had resisted integration despite heavy public pressure arguing that keeping with the all-white roster was A) giving the Red Sox a competitive disadvantage against other teams who were happy to sign talented black players; and, was B) blatantly racist. Even the Boston Bruins had integrated before the Red Sox did.

It didn't take fan outrage, though, to change the Red Sox' ways. Even investigations bythe Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination didn't work. After the first investigation, in 1958, the Commission sent the Red Sox a letter asking them how it was possible that the team had no black people on the team's payroll in any capacity, even as janitor. Other organizations pressured Boston, as well, including the Boston Ministerial Alliance, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the American Veterans Committee of Massachusetts.

It still took another year for Boston to get the message. They eventually called up Elijah "Pumpsie" Green from the minor league Minneapolis Millers. On July 21, 1959, the Red Sox officially became the last team to integrate when Green pinch ran for Vic Wertz in the 8th inning of a 2-1 loss to the White Sox. Though Green stayed in the first game at shortstop, he didn't get a chance to bat or handle a chance in the field until the next game, when he started and batted second.

Green was a utility player throughout his short career, not making much of a mark in the majors. His career should not have been noteworthy in any way, just another name in the baseball register. But he's now associated with baseball integration, listed on the same charts as Jackie Robinson, and all because he was associated with the most racist team of his time.

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