July 21, 1959: Pumpsie Green makes his debut with Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox had the opportunity to sign Jackie Robinson at a supposed tryout at Fenway Park in April 1945.1 Instead, it was more than 14 years later – after every one of the other 15 teams in the American and National leagues had integrated, and after Robinson himself had been retired for nearly two years – before a Black player finally appeared in a game for the Red Sox.2
By then, in July 1959, they’d played against Black opponents, at home and on the road, for 12 years.3 They had been the very first major-league team to field a Mexican-born player, Mel Almada, back in 1933.4 But it wasn’t until July 21, 1959, that Pumpsie Green took the field for the Red Sox at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, making Boston the last White major-league team to integrate. And it was still another couple of weeks before Green played his first game at Fenway Park.5
Green, who had been in Boston’s farm system since the 1956 season, had trained with the Red Sox in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1959, the first Black player to do so, but had to stay in separate quarters because, as the Boston Globe reported, “Negroes are not permitted to live in Scottsdale.”6
He was cut from the team at the end of spring training and optioned to Triple-A Minneapolis. That prompted protest from the Massachusetts branch of the NAACP to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).7 Meanwhile, Green was hitting .320 with a .439 on-base percentage in 98 games with Minneapolis, in his second season at Triple A.
Billy Jurges was Boston’s manager on July 21; he had taken over for Mike “Pinky” Higgins 18 days earlier. Higgins had supposedly told Boston writer Al Hirshberg, “There’ll be no n—— on this ballclub as long as I have anything to say about it.”8
But Higgins’s firing was not a gesture of enlightenment from Red Sox higher-ups. After piloting Boston to four winning seasons in a row but getting no closer to first place than 12 games in the final standings, Higgins was fired with the Red Sox in last place on July 2.9
They remained in eighth place on July 21, when Green was called up. To make room on the roster, Bobby Avila was put on waivers and was promptly claimed by the Milwaukee Braves. The Red Sox wanted Green to play second base; Minneapolis manager Gene Mauch said that the combination of Green at second and Jim Mahoney at shortstop had won “as many games by their defensive play as we have on the hitting of our leading batters.”10
Still, Green was not in the lineup for his first game in a Red Sox uniform, the opener of a three-game series in Chicago. Pete Runnels was at second for Boston.
Al Lopez, whose White Sox were one percentage point behind the league-leading Cleveland Indians, started Dick Donovan on the mound, and Jurges started Tom Brewer, both right-handers.11 Both pitched complete games.
Through three scoreless innings, the Red Sox managed a single and a walk off Donovan. White Sox batters had three singles, a walk, and a hit by pitch.
In the fourth inning, as in the third, Boston couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield. The White Sox, though, scored once. First baseman Norm Cash singled with one out, followed by right fielder Jim McAnany’s single to right. Cash continued to third and scored when third baseman Frank Malzone dropped Gene Stephens’s throw from right field, then fired the ball – wildly – to first base to try to get McAnany before he could return to the bag.12
Malzone singled in the top of the fifth but didn’t score. Catcher Sherm Lollar singled for Chicago but, despite an error by Runnels at second, Lollar did not score. It remained 1-0, Chicago.
Boston’s leadoff batter in the sixth, shortstop Don Buddin, homered into the left-field stands. That tied the game. Donovan got two outfield flies, walked two, and then got another outfield fly. Brewer retired Chicago in order, all on fly balls, in Chicago’s half of the inning.
In the seventh, Donovan got all three Boston batters, all on infield grounders, and Chicago scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the frame. Brewer walked shortstop Luis Aparicio. Second baseman Nellie Fox deftly bunted in front of the plate, Aparicio taking second on his sacrifice. Center fielder Jim Landis hit a “checked swing blooper single into right field,”13 easily scoring Aparicio and again putting the White Sox ahead by a run, 2-1.
Leading off the top of the eighth, with the Red Sox needing a run to tie, Vic Wertz pinch-hit for Buddin and singled to center.
At this point, history was made: Jurges had Pumpsie Green pinch-run for Wertz at first. But the 25-year-old Green advanced no farther. Runnels lined out to right. Center fielder Marty Keough lifted a fly ball to third base. First baseman Dick Gernert fouled out, a popup caught by the catcher, ending the inning.
Green remained on the field at shortstop in the bottom of the eighth. Brewer gave up a single to left fielder Al Smith, and then another single to Cash, sending Smith to second. But McAnany, Donovan, and Aparicio were retired to strand the runners.
Down by just the one run, Red Sox right fielder Gene Stephens singled to lead off the ninth. Left fielder Ted Williams flied out to right for the first out.14 Malzone hit a ball some 400 feet to deep center field but it was caught for the second out.15
Gary Geiger pinch-hit for catcher Sammy White and kept the inning going by singling to right, Stephens went from first to third.
Brewer was due up. It was an easy call; Jackie Jensen pinch-hit for him. Jensen had twice led the league in RBIs and was the AL MVP in 1958.16 But Jensen grounded out to first base, unassisted, and the game was over, a 2-1 win for Donovan.
The Red Sox had six hits; the White Sox had nine. Boston had committed three errors and Chicago none.
When he made it into the game, Pumpsie Green was stuck on first base as three batters failed to advance him, and then he played shortstop for an inning without having a fielding chance.17 But he had become the first Black player to appear in a game for the Boston Red Sox.
The game had drawn 28,534 “plus 3,582 bartenders who for a change had one on the house.”18 It lasted 2 hours and 27 minutes.
Still at Comiskey Park, Green started at second base the next day, and was 0-for-3 with a fifth-inning walk off future Hall of Famer Early Wynn and a stolen base.
He collected his first major-league base hit in the second game of a doubleheader in Cleveland on July 28. He singled off Jim Perry, and scored his first run when the next batter, Runnels, homered. Boston won, 8-4. Pitching the seventh inning for Boston in the game was Earl Wilson, who became their second Black player.
Green’s first extra-base hit was a triple during a 3-for-4 game in Detroit on July 31. He scored three runs in Boston’s 6-5 win. By the time the lengthy road trip wrapped up on August 2, he was batting .292.
On Tuesday, August 4, the Red Sox were back in Boston. Green played second base in both games of that day’s doubleheader against Kansas City, becoming the first Black ballplayer to play for the Red Sox at home. He was 1-for-3 in each game, scoring one run in each, Boston winning the first game and K.C. the second.
By the end of the season, Green had appeared in 50 games for the Red Sox. He hit .233 but his .350 on-base percentage was better than the team’s .335. His .972 fielding percentage was slightly below the team’s .978.
Green played the next three seasons for the Red Sox as well, appearing in 327 total games, then briefly, in his final major-league campaign, with the New York Mets in 1963.
This article was fact-checked by Bruce Slutsky and copyedited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and the various author articles in Bill Nowlin, ed., Pumpsie & Progress: The Red Sox, Race and Redemption (Burlington, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2010).
1 “Green Ends What Robinson Started” was the headline given by the Boston Globe to a United Press International story that ran on page 35 of the July 22, 1959, Globe.
2 For a detailed account of the tryout, see Glenn Stout, “Tryout and Fallout: Race, Jackie Robinson, and the Red Sox,” in Bill Nowlin, ed., Pumpsie & Progress: The Red Sox, Race and Redemption (Burlington, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2010), 65-91.
3 See, for instance, Chris Wertz, “A Fenway First: Willard ‘Home Run’ Brown Is the First Black Man to Play in a Major League Game at Fenway,” in Pumpsie & Progress, 123-132. Brown’s first Fenway Park appearance has been written for SABR’s Games Project. See https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-25-1947-willard-brown-becomes-first-black-ballplayer-in-a-major-league-game-at-fenway-park/.
4 The game has been written about for SABR’s Games Project. See Bill Nowlin, “September 8, 1933: Mel Almada becomes the first Mexican native to play in a major-league baseball game,” SABR Games Project. https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/september-8-1933-mel-almada-becomes-the-first-mexican-native-to-play-in-a-major-league-baseball-game/.
5 The Boston Braves, by contrast, not only had Sam Jethroe play for them almost a decade earlier, in April 1950, but had seen him become National League Rookie of the Year that year. Jethroe had, from the start, been well-received by Boston Braves fans. For Jethroe’s first game in Boston, see: https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/april-21-1950-a-barrier-partially-falls-sam-jethroes-first-game-in-boston/.
6 So explained Roger Birtwell, “Green Joins Sox,” Boston Globe, February 26, 1959: 23. The Red Sox, of course, could have anticipated the problem and housed the team in bordering Phoenix, as had the Cubs and Giants.
7 For more of the politics involved at the time, see David M. Muchnick & Frances Muchnick Goldstein, “Principled Politics: Personal and Local,” Pumpsie & Progress, 110-121.
8 Al Hirshberg, What’s the Matter with the Red Sox? (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1973), 143. Hirshberg wrote that it was sometime earlier in the 1950s that Higgins had said this. Higgins had managed the Red Sox since 1955.
9 Relieving Higgins of his position may have had more to do with alcoholism.
10 Hy Hurwitz, “2d Base Play Wins Green Varsity Shot,” Boston Globe, July 22, 1959: 25. See also Bob Holbrook, “Pumpsie Ends Sox 2B Worries,” Boston Globe. July 31, 1959: 23, 24. Mahoney played in 31 games for the 1959 Red Sox, batting .130. He made four errors in 67 chances.
11 Donovan was a Boston native, and a former Boston Brave. He was in his ninth season, his fifth full season – all with the White Sox. He came into the game with a 6-5 record and a 3.98 ERA. Brewer was from the Carolinas, in his sixth season with the Red Sox and was 7-6 with a 3.32 ERA.
12 Roger Birtwell, “Red Sox Lose, 2 to 1, to Chisox,” Boston Globe, July 22, 1959: 25. The ball got by Gernert at Fenway and ricocheted all the way back into right field where Stephens had to throw it in all over again.
13 Ed Rumill, “Bringing Up Pumpsie Green from Minneapolis May Be Start of New Deal,” Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 1959: 12.
14 The next day’s Boston Globe featured a photograph of a smiling Ted Williams mugging with Green. Titled, “Welcome Aboard,” it said “Ted Williams gives Pumpsie Green some friendly advice.” Boston Globe, July 22, 1959: 35. Williams was known for having selected Green as his pregame throwing partner to loosen up in front of the fans, clearly conveying his welcome of Green as a teammate.
15 Arthur Sampson, “Donovan Beats Red Sox, 2-1,” Boston Herald, July 22, 1959: 33, 34.
16 Jensen hadn’t played in the July 21 game due to a leg bruise.
17 It was the only game in 1959 in which Green played shortstop for the Red Sox.
18 Edward Prell, “Sox Defeat Boston, 2-1,” Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1959: Sports, 1.
Chicago White Sox 2
Boston Red Sox 1
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