Green first to break color barrier with Sox
Twelve years after Jackie, Pumpsie made Boston history
BOSTON -- When Pumpsie Green made his Major League debut for the Red Sox on July 21, 1959, the Major Leagues had long since been integrated. More than 12 years earlier, Jackie Robinson had been the trailblazer African-American baseball players had been waiting for, as he broke baseball's color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But Green made a little history in his own right, becoming the first African-American to ever suit up for the Boston Red Sox.
Of the franchises that existed in 1959, the Red Sox were the last to integrate.
Perhaps it was not by accident that the club called Green up from Triple-A during an extended road trip. This would give him a little time to gain his bearings before coming to Boston, a city that had its share of racial issues.
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"We're at Logan Airport in Boston and we're getting off the plane, and all of a sudden these bright lights came on, these TV cameras," said Green, who was a middle infielder. "I just thought that's what they did. I figured it was nice of them to come out. Only later did I find out that all those cameras were there because of me."
They were also there to see right-hander Earl Wilson, who became the second black player to suit up for the Red Sox, one week after Green.
So when the Red Sox host the Rays on Sunday -- which is Jackie Robinson Day in the Majors -- Fenway fans should think back to the impact that Green and the late Wilson had, and the road they paved for men like Tommy Harper, Reggie Smith, Jim Rice, Ellis Burks and Mo Vaughn.
When Green made his Fenway debut against the Kansas City Athletics on Aug. 1, it seemed as if every African-American in Boston came out to see him.
"They usually had no [place] to sit in center field," said Green. "But that night, so many blacks came to the ballpark that they roped off a spot in center just to get more people into the park. That was because of me. Knowing that people were coming to see you was nerve-wracking. The one thing I didn't want to do was fall flat on my face. That was a bundle of nerves. A whole lot was going on."
Wilson, who went on to throw a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 1962, died in 2005. In a 2003 interview with MLB.com, he recalled the difficult situation that he and Green were thrust into.
"During that time, we were forced on each other," said Wilson. "They didn't ask me who I wanted to room with. The unwritten rule was that Pumpsie and I roomed together. In Spring Training, we couldn't live in the same hotel as the team, so we lived in some people's homes."
Once the current Red Sox ownership group, led by John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, took over the team in 2002, Green and Wilson started attending club functions and events.
When Henry's group was approved, one of their first missions was to help repair the club's history of race relations, which was not always exemplary.
Green played for the Red Sox until 1962, and capped his five-year career with the Mets in '63. In 344 Major League games, he hit .246 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs.
He still wonders how his Major League career might have panned out if he had gone somewhere besides Boston.
"The Major Leagues, to me, was like Opening Day every time I played because of the nerves I felt," said Green, who hit .246 over his career with 13 home runs and 74 RBIs. "I never felt relaxed playing in Boston, not even for one day. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I played for another team with a bunch of black players. I was relaxed in the Minors, but once I got called up, I couldn't."
For all the tough times Green endured, he's glad the Red Sox gave him an opportunity.
"I wouldn't change anything," Green said. "I wanted to be a ballplayer and I was able to do it. I did it to the best of my ability for as long as I could. I did it as hard as I could and had fun doing it."