On July 21, 1959, the Boston Red Sox become the last team to debut a black player when Elijah “Pumpsie” Green appears in a game as a pinch-runner for Vic Wertz and shortstop. Green’s debut with Boston comes 12 years after Jackie Robinson’s historic debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In an interview with the Red Sox released last year, Green described the period leading up to his debut at Fenway Park: “Sometimes it was difficult, sometimes it was hard, sometimes it was impossible but I stuck with it.”
“Unlike other major league clubs, the Sox did not insist that Green be allowed to stay in the same hotels as the rest of his teammates. He had to secure his own lodging, often miles away. He traveled through Texas with the Chicago Cubs, their barnstorming partners, who — unlike Boston — refused to bow to Southern segregationist traditions.
“Then, at the end of spring training, the Red Sox sent Green back to the minor leagues, despite sportswriters’ general praise of his performance. It was an outrage.”
Then-owner Tom Yawkey and his front office are now widely viewed as racist, and last year the Red Sox succeeded in changing the name of a street named after him in order to distance the team from its checkered history. For example, before Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers, he and two other black players were famously given a disingenuous try-out with the Red Sox. “We knew we were wasting our time,” he later said, according to The Boston Globe.
After public pressure and Carrington’s investigation, the Red Sox eventually brought Green onto the team. He remembered his first game at Fenway as deeply nerve-wracking: “There was more pressure on me that night than I don’t know what. I couldn’t relax.”
The stands were packed with people who wanted to see him play. “As I was approaching home plate I got a standing ovation,” Green remembered. “He threw me a slider and I hit it, I got out in front and hit it off the Green Monster in left center field, and the crowd went crazy.”
“Pumpsie Green occupies a special place in our history,” Red Sox principal owner John Henry said Wednesday, according to a news story from the team. “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.”