The Boston Red Sox

By TOM SHEEHAN  |  November 14, 2006

-- And perhaps most significantly, the top three rungs of the Red Sox minor league farm system are virtually devoid of black and Latin talent, and the system as a whole appears to have fewer nonwhites than most other clubs.

Enter Pumpsie
For the American League, 1959 was notable largely as a rare year in which the Yankees didn’t win the pennant. The heavily favored New Yorkers, who’d won four in a row and would take another five straight beginning the next year, slumped to third place, a full 15 games behind the Go-Go Chicago White Sox.

Red Sox fans may recall 1959 for another reason entirely: it was the year Boston became the last major league town to drop baseball’s color bar. The man who did it was a 25-year-old utility infielder named Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, and the way he did it was a great deal more interesting than his unremarkable career.

“Unremarkable” is perhaps a charitable description. In his four-year fling in the majors, Green batted only .246, hit but 13 homers, was defensively inadequate and was unable to stay in baseball even after signing up with the 1962 New York Mets, probably the worst team in baseball history. All of this has led some critics to charge Green was chosen as the Sox first black in the knowledge that he would fail, but Sox spokesman Bill Crowley scoffs at such charges, pointing to Green’s fairly good minor league credentials.

And certainly in 1959, Green had the sweetest spring training of his young life, batting .327, bashing four homers and so impressing the team’s regular sportswriters that they informally voted him the best rookie of the spring. (“On the basis of that spring,” Pumpsie joked recently, “I should have been batting cleanup.”) But Pumpsie wasn’t to bat anywhere in the Sox lineup: in the midst of an exhibition game in Texas shortly before opening day, the press box received a jolting message. Green would be coming north, all right, but not to Fenway. He was going to Minneapolis, home of Boston’s top farm club at the time.

The howl of protest was immediate. Three groups – the NAACP, the Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, and the American Veterans Committee – descended on the Sox. Simultaneously, the press reported that Pumpsie had been housed miles away from the rest of the team in Arizona that spring and that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) would begin a probe. Then Red Sox traveling secretary Tom Dowd spoke to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon and joked about a proposed Fenway parking lot. “Now that Pumpsie Green isn’t coming here,” he giggled, “we’ll have to white top it instead of black top it.”

On April 21, Dick O’Connell, then Red Sox business manager and today the team’s top dog as executive vice president and general manager, was called before the MCAD. “The Boston Red Sox are entirely American,” O’Connell declared. “We have no discrimination against race, color or creed. We think we’ve been fair, fair, fair! We think these charges have been unfair, unfair, unfair!”

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