Liscio: Milestone 70th anniversary for Robinson, Jethroe, Williams tryout with Red Sox

From SABR member Stephanie Liscio at It’s Pronounced Lajaway on April 16, 2015:

Seventy  years ago today, Cleveland Buckeye Sam Jethroe, Kansas City Monarch Jackie Robinson, and Philadelphia Star Marvin Williams walked into Fenway Park for a tryout with the Boston Red Sox.  There had been a discussion about integration for several years, and Jethroe’s name had come up on multiple occasions.  Even though there were a number of formal and informal tryouts before this point, this one seems to get the most attention.  Unfortunately, there was almost no chance that any of the three players would be actually signed by the Red Sox.

A politician by the name of Isadore Muchnick threatened a Sunday baseball ban for both the Red Sox and the Braves (then in Boston) unless the teams held tryouts for African American players.  So Wendell Smith, reporter with the Pittsburgh Courier, helped orchestrate the tryout for Jethroe, Robinson, and Williams.  This wasn’t unusual, as African American journalists (and Smith in particular) often took an activist role in the attempt to integrate baseball.  The Red Sox never even bothered to tell the three men they didn’t make the team; not surprising since the tryout was primarily to remove the political heat from the ball club.  According to Howard Bryant in his book Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, Wendell Smith said in frustration, “We’ll hear from the Red Sox like we’ll hear from Adolf Hitler.”

Speaking of World War II, the tryout was just four days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away in office.  In fact, when asked about the tryout in later years, the players remembered discussing FDR’s death as they left Fenway Park.  Even though the Red Sox blew off the three players, it wouldn’t be long before someone signed Jackie Robinson.  Branch Rickey would ink him to a deal in October of 1945.

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Originally published: April 16, 2015. Last Updated: April 16, 2015.