The Boston Red Sox

By TOM SHEEHAN  |  November 14, 2006

In its account of the session, the Christian Science Monitor reported: “The business manager said he expended much effort to find two Negro boys to ‘work on the canvas … to keep this business quiet.’ Then he said he thought it was ‘unjust to have to go to such lengths ‘just for a cause…’” (The ‘canvas’ in question apparently was the one used to cover the field in the event of rain; the jobs for the two Negro boys would appear to be on the ground crew, where, incidentally, a few black faces have recently appeared. O’Connell was unavailable to discuss this or any other matter with the Phoenix.)

Ultimately the MCAD extracted a promise from the Sox that the club would treat everyone fairly in the future, and the complaint was dropped. On July 21, 1959, Pumpsie Green was brought up to the big ball club.

“The Red Sox always felt they had been forced into bringing Green up,” recalled one knowledgeable baseball observer, “and I believe they always resented him for it.” The Red Sox also had Pete Runnels at second base, Green’s best position. Since Runnels was in the habit of winning American League batting crowns around that time, Pumpsie became a benchwarmer.

Today working as a dean’s assistant in a Berkeley, California high school, Green harbors no ill feeling toward his former employers. “I feel I was lucky enough to do one of the things I always wanted to do,” he said in a telephone interview. “Sometimes I think, though, that without that tag of ‘first black player,’ I might have been a heck of a player.”

Green said he never ran into any trouble with his teammates or the fans. “Bill Russell [the Celtics basketball star] warned me it was a pretty racist city, but I didn’t really know what he was talking about.”

Green said that all he knew about the controversy surrounding his demotion to the minors in the spring of ’59 was “what I read in the papers,” and then he added, “I probably didn’t see a lot of things.”

The King
The nickname says as much: pitcher Earl “The King” Wilson never missed a trick. Or almost never. A 6 foot 3, 215-pound giant of a man, Wilson did just miss – by six days – the distinction of becoming Boston’s first black ballplayer; instead, he became Boston’s first black star. In seven years with the Sox Wilson compiled a solid .500 winning percentage, no mean feat on a team generally mired in the second division. But it was on one evening – June 26, 1962 – that Wilson earned his star status with a 2-0 no-hitter against the then-Los Angeles Angels. It was the first no-hitter by a black in the history of the American League, and it promptly earned Wilson the adulation of the fans and a $1000 raise from Tom Yawkey.

“It wasn’t all wine and roses, that’s for sure,” Wilson, now an automotive supply dealer in Detroit, said recently. “First off, it’s impossible for me to believe that Boston couldn’t come up with a quality black ballplayer. Other teams are coming up with Willie Mays, Elston Howard, people like that, and they come up with me and Pumpsie Green.

“We weren’t exactly Hall of Famers,” he laughed.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Racism and Bigotry, Harry S. Truman, Arthur Garrity,  More more >
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    This article originally appeared in the July 24, 1973 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

 See all articles by: TOM SHEEHAN