On this last day of Black History Month we take a look at the last team in the majors to integrate.
By 1959 every team had at least one black baseball player on its roster, from Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 to the Chicago Cubs in 1953 with Ernie Banks; to the Detroit Tigers in 1958 with Ozzie Virgil. Even the New York Yankees integrated with the addition of Elston Howard in 1955.
But the last team to integrate was the Boston Red Sox, who on July 21, 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson made his debut and three years after he retired added Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green to its roster. Green, an infielder made his debut as a pinch runner in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. Green received a standing ovation by the White Sox faithful coming out of the on-deck circle for his first at bat.
Green spent five seasons in the majors – four with the Red Sox and retired on September 26, 1963 as a member of the New York Mets. In 344 games played the switch-hitting Green had a career batting average of .246 with 13 home runs and 74 runs batted in. Born in Boley, Okla., Green currently resides in El Cerrito, Ca. where he grew up.
Green often spoke about the great relationships he had with many Red Sox players, including Ted Williams, and how much of an influence Robinson had on him.
The Red Sox honored Green in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of this (for lack of a better term) milestone. Boston has always had a shady past, especially in recent memory when it comes to race relations and the Red Sox were no exception. It should be noted that before Green, the Boston Braves became the fifth team to add a black player with Sam Jethroe in 1950.
Even the Boston Bruins of the NHL, a sport not known for having a high number of black players, integrated before the Red Sox did with Willie O’Ree, the Jackie Robinson of the NHL became the first black player in the entire league a year earlier in 1958.
But legend has it that the Red Sox did try to sign a black player before Green. They scouted Willie Mays and even gave Robinson a tryout in 1945 that did not go well. It is said that Robinson felt the Red Sox were never really serious in signing him, leaving the Dodgers hall of famer with a huge chip on his shoulder against the Red Sox and manager Joe Cronin.
Later in 1959 Earl Wilson became the second black player to suit up for Boston, but what took the Red Sox so long to sign a black player is anybody’s guess. They passed on numerous black players such as Robinson, Mays, Banks, Satchel Paige, Don Newcombe, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, who all went on to greatness and even the Hall of Fame. Just think that if the Red Sox had added just one of those great players, the “Curse of the Bambino” might have ended a lot sooner.
Being the last team to add a black player to its roster is a trivia question that you should not want to be the subject of.
Here is a list of teams and their first black players in order prior to 1961.
Brooklyn Dodgers – Jackie Robinson (1947)
Cleveland Indians – Larry Doby (1947)
St. Louis Browns – Hank Thompson (1947)
New York Giants – Hank Thompson (1949)
Boston Braves – Sam Jethroe (1950)
Chicago White Sox – Minnie Minoso (1951)
Philadelphia Athletics – Bob Trice (1953)
Chicago Cubs – Ernie Banks (1953)
Pittsburgh Pirates – Curt Roberts (1954)
St. Louis Cardinals – Tom Alston (1954)
Cincinnati Reds – Nino Escalera (1954)
Washington Senators – Carlos Paula (1954)
New York Yankees – Elston Howard (1955)
Philadelphia Phillies – John Kennedy (1957)
Detroit Tigers – Ozzie Virgil (1958)
Boston Red Sox – Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green (1959)