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Baseball pioneer Pumpsie Green's accomplishments should not be forgotten

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AP

Baseball pioneer Pumpsie Green's accomplishments should not be forgotten

It’s a shame Pumpsie Green won’t get to celebrate the 60th anniversary. Not of his marriage; he and his wife, Marie, reached that milestone two years ago. The other anniversary.

The day he made history.

It was on July 21, 1959 that Green broke baseball’s last clubhouse color line, becoming the first black man to wear the uniform of the Boston Red Sox. That moment was not at all diminished by the fact that it came 12 years, two months and six days after Jackie Robinson’s seminal debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The American League Red Sox, you see, had spent those years assiduously ignoring or rejecting hundreds of black prospects. The National League Boston Braves, with a home ballpark a five-minute drive from famed Fenway, opened their door in 1950, signing Sam Jethroe. One year earlier, in 1949, a naïve young Red Sox scout, George Digby, was rebuffed in his attempts to persuade owner Tom Yawkey to sign a 17-year-old kid named Willie Mays for $4,500.

The honor, as it was, fell to Green. Ten years after the Sox found reason to disqualify Mays.

With a list of valid reasons to be bitter, Pumpsie stayed humble, kept it professional and graciously accepted the support of teammate and Red Sox legend Ted Williams.

As his groundbreaking moment gave way to a shortlist of accomplishments, Green remained true to himself, his family and his task. As the eldest of five athletic brothers – one of whom, Cornell, was a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback with the NFL Dallas Cowboys – growing up in the Richmond-El Cerrito area, Pumpsie understood the concept of responsibility and setting an example.

He was hired to play ball, and he took the job seriously. He was no superstar. Nor was he an All-Star. He was not a token, either, as one week after Green’s first at-bat, Earl Wilson made his pitching debut with the Red Sox.

Green played 344 games over parts of five seasons, a career too short to qualify for a pension. He batted .246, with 13 home runs and 74 RBI in 796 at-bats. He was, to be accurate, an otherwise unremarkable player whose sheer talent fell well short of his character.

That much I’d gleaned from years of talking to people acquainted with him. He was, by all accounts, a gentleman. I reached the same conclusion nearly 15 years ago when he invited me to his El Cerrito home.

I went because I was curious, not so much about Pumpsie himself but about his reaction to an event many believed might never happen. Two weeks earlier, the Red Sox, after 86 years without winning a World Series, ended the drought. The “Curse of the Bambino” had lifted.

Green had watched the World Series, most of it, but he neither led nor followed cheers. It was at his convenience that he would settle into his favorite chair for some Sox-Cardinals baseball.

There was no animosity. Pumpsie Green emotionally was unattached to the Red Sox. He watched, when he chose to, mostly because he likes baseball.

He did express that most of the happiness he felt was for the fans of New England, who had rooted so hard, for so long, only to go sledding, year after year, into winter unfulfilled. The victory was not his but theirs, and for that he was pleased.

Green explained that he recently had strengthened his relationship with the franchise. A group led by commodities trader and hedge fund manager John Henry purchased the Red Sox from the Yawkey family trust in 2002. The new owners cast a net of outreach wide enough to include Pumpsie.

Green was satisfied by that, felt the new group had “remembered” him. They invited him back to Boston several times, including in 2009 when he threw a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway. He was inducted 14 months ago into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

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Elijah “Pumpsie” Green passed away Wednesday, three days before the 60th anniversary of his big-league debut. He was 85.

“Pumpsie Green occupies a special place in our history,” Henry said in a statement released by the Red Sox. “He was, by his own admission, a reluctant pioneer, but we will always remember him for his grace and perseverance in becoming our first African-American player. He paved the way for the many great Sox players of color who followed. For that, we all owe Pumpsie a debt of gratitude.”

In the breathless race to regurgitate what happened five minutes ago -- a treadmill without end -- there often is no time for context or reflection. The value of history can get lost because, well, it happened generations earlier. Men like Pumpsie Green deserve better.

Giants scout compared Mark McGwire to better Dave Kingman as prospect

Giants scout compared Mark McGwire to better Dave Kingman as prospect

It was clear when watching Mark McGwire at USC that he was set for stardom in the big leagues. McGwire was an eighth-round pick in high school but then dominated for the Trojans. 

When Giants scout George Genovese saw McGwire play in March of 1984, he was blown away.

"This boy has outstanding power," Genovese wrote in his official scouting report. "... I feel he will be a good power hitter as he makes good contact and hits to all field with power. He is a tough out at the plate and it takes a good curve ball or excellent pitch to get him out." 

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As MLB.com's Matt Kelly notes, Genovese even saw a better version of a former No. 1 overall pick -- Dave Kingman -- in a young McGwire.

"As much power and better contact at the plate than Dave Kingman," Genovese wrote.

McGwire wound up hitting .387 with 32 home runs, 20 doubles and 80 RBI at USC in 1984. And the Giants had a chance to select McGwire with the No. 9 pick in the '84 MLB Draft. Instead, they took outfielder Alan Cockrell, who had nine at-bats in his MLB career and never played for San Francisco.

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The A's grabbed McGwire one pick later at No. 10 overall, and he became an instant star. The powerful first baseman hit a then-rookie record 49 homers for the A's in 1987 on his way to winning AL Rookie of the Year. 

McGwire finished his career with 583 long balls. Kingman, who started his career with the Giants and ended it with the A's, hit 442. And Cockrell had two career hits ... none went over the fence.

Giants coaches believe players can get ready for shortened MLB season

Giants coaches believe players can get ready for shortened MLB season

For a few weeks now players have been eyeing the first week of July, hopeful that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association find a compromise that gets the game back on the field sometime around the time fireworks are scheduled to go off.

But every day that passes without a deal is one less day for the staff to potentially get players ready. At some point, that might lead to tension as teams look at the calendar, but for now the Giants still believe they have plenty of time to prepare for a shortened season. 

On last week's "Chalk Talk at Home," pitching coach Andrew Bailey and hitting coach Donnie Ecker said they're confident that Spring Training 2.0 can get their players ready in about three weeks. 

"I think it depends on where these guys are coming in," Bailey said. "I think we can do it in the three-week timespan. We may not be seeing a full workload, 100 pitches or whatever you see. I think that we still have to do some buildup there, but we can definitely get guys ready in that timeframe and be a little bit cautious with back-to-backs and different things and monitor (them). Ideally, the longer the better, for sure, on the pitching side of things."

Ecker said the hitting coaches -- himself, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind -- are looking at a similar timeframe, although they do have more wiggle room. 

"I think we need a lot less time from a physiological standpoint than pitchers do," he said. "The three week (schedule) is kind of a sweet spot for us to get enough live at-bats in."

While it takes some work to get your timing down, the Giants should have more than enough time to get their lineup ready. Buster Posey has often gone into a season with just a couple dozen at-bats under his belt, and the veteran-filled lineup is full of players who won't need much more than that if they're able to play games in their second spring. Pitching machines are so advanced these days that players are able to take unlimited hacks against machine-thrown breaking balls or 100 mph fastballs. Many of the team's veterans have posted clips on Instagram where they're hitting off machines at home. 

It's a bit more complicated for pitchers, but Bailey said he is starting to get calls from players who live in areas that have opened up to the point that you can throw live BP sessions and simulated games against hitters. The analytics staff put together a questionnaire that allows the Giants to track and log throwing programs on a daily basis. 

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Bailey is leaning on over-communicating, and the message from the staff has been to over-prepare if possible. Ideally, the Giants would like their pitchers to come in more stretched out than they normally would, giving them flexibility when games start. 

"We'll just get creative with our staff, our usage and make sure that their workloads are okay and healthy," Bailey said. "I think obviously winning is at the forefront of everybody's mind, but keeping our players healthy for 2020 is a priority of ours as well."

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