We all know to celebrate the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, but there were 15 other teams that existed during baseball’s segregated days which later came to see the light.
Eventually anyway. The Red Sox were the last, fielding their first black player on this day in 1959. His name was Pumpsie Green. Still is, actually, as he’s still alive and -- if Wikipedia is to be believed -- living in El Cerrito, California.
Green was a pinch runner on July 21, 1959 but eventually played five seasons in the majors, hitting .246 with 13 homers and 74 RBI. He and a teammate once abandoned the Red Sox during a trip to New York and weren’t seen for three days, when they were spotted trying to board a plane for Israel without passports. That’s also from the Wikipedia page, so you know, I’m going to assume it’s true. And kinda neat in a Lost Weekend sort of way.
Why did it take so long for the Red Sox to get Green -- or any other black player -- on the field? To use the words of Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, who spoke to NPR on the matter back in 2002, it had everything to do with the Red Sox’ “undeniable legacy of racial intolerance.” That intolerance led them to cut short a tryout of Jackie Robinson in 1945 and to pass on Willie Mays a few years later. So many missed opportunities for Boston.
But just because they were slow to join the modern world doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recognize Pumpsie Green. I’m not saying every Red Sox player should wear number 12 for the day or anything, but three cheers for Pumpsie are in order, right?