The Marriott Copley lobby overflowed with people the weekend before this yearâs Boston Marathon, but one person stood out in the crowd — a legend who forced the city to see that its most beloved ballclub was red, white and black.
The former Red Sox second baseman was surrounded by nearly 100 people that Saturday morning, and no one recognized him. Except one.
"Are you Pumpsie Green?" said a Marriott bellman.
"Yes," said Elijah Jerry "Pumpsie" Green.
"It's an honor to meet you," said the bellman as he was shaking Greenâs hand.
Green smiled. They proceeded to chat about the ceremonial first pitch Green threw the night before (April 15) at Fenway Park in honor of Jackie Robinson Day, commemorating the 62nd anniversary of his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Red Sox flew Green in from his native California to be part of the ceremony.
Twelve years after Robinsonâs pioneering achievement in 1947, Pumpsie Green became the first African-American to play for the Red Sox on July 21, 1959 at Chicagoâs Comiskey Park. On Aug. 4, 1959, Green was introduced to Fenway Park and started at second base in the first game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City Athletics.
The bellman was one of the few Bostonians who understood the significance of this event. Aug. 4, 2009, is the 50th anniversary of Greenâs Fenway Park debut. This is a unique opportunity to revisit an important day in Boston sports history.
It was the top of the first inning with a runner on first base. A grounder was hit to Red Sox third baseman Frank Malzone. Malzone scooped up the ball and whipped it to Green, who stepped on second for the force and threw to first for the double play.
The crowd cheered. It was the first time Red Sox fans had ever done that for a black player.
âI was almost on a cloud or in a trance or something,â Green recalled. âI couldnât breathe. I was so hyped up.â
Green led off in the bottom of the first.
âEverybody in the park [was] screaming,â Green said. âThey gave me a standing ovation.â
Umpire Eddie Rommel greeted Green at home plate.
âHey, Pumpsie, welcome to the major leagues,â Rommel told the rookie.
Astonished at the welcome, Green gave himself a little advice: âI said, âPumpsie, one thing you want to do is you want to hit the ball. You do not want to strike out and have to walk all the way back to the dugout after receiving a standing ovation.ââ
Green got himself together, said a few prayers, and stepped into the batterâs box. K.C. right-hander John Tsitouris threw him a strike.
âI was lucky that I had seen this guy before,â Green said. âI had an idea of what he had and how he was going to pitch.â
Tsitouris threw Green a low curve.
âI swung and hit the hell out of the ball, off the Green Monster and in left-center field,â Green said.
He rounded the bases and slid into third with a triple.
âThe crowd went crazy,â Green said. âThey gave me another standing ovation. And I took a deep breath.â
Red Sox first baseman Pete Runnels was next and he hit a grounder to first base. Green booked it to home plate and scored. The Sox went up 1-0.
After Green scored, K.C. catcher Harry Chiti called for the ball. He said that Green did not tag home plate.
âI knew I ran across home plate,â Green said. âThatâs where Iâm supposed to go. Iâve done that a thousand times before.â
Rommel ended the suspense by ruling that Green had touched home plate. Green took another deep breath.
The next day, Green was invited to meet team owner Thomas A. Yawkey, whose record on race relations was (and remains) questionable. Not only was Yawkey the last owner to employ a black player, but in April 1945, he reluctantly offered a sham 90-minute tryout to Negro League standouts Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams.
Green headed up to Yawkeyâs office. He walked in, looked around, saw the great names on the wall, shook Yawkeyâs hand and sat down.
âWant a cup of coffee?â Yawkey asked.
âNo thanks,â Green replied.
âWant something to drink?â
âIâd like to welcome you to the Boston organization,â Yawkey continued. âIâm pleased that youâre here â¦ If you have any problems, you donât necessarily have to go to the coach or somebody else. If you have any problems, give me a phone call. Any questions?â
âI canât think of any,â Green said.
âWell, I wish you good luck,â Yawkey closed.
âThank you, and Iâll see you later,â Green finished.
He headed for the clubhouse and got dressed to play ball.
Prior to meeting Yawkey, Green had only heard of him and knew very little about Boston. He once saw an image on TV that gave him a glimpse into Boston city life.
âI always remember this black man with a briefcase and he had 100, at least 100 white people, chasing him trying to catch him,â Green said. âI donât know what for, but I knew one thing — he was running like hell.â
The image sticks with Green to this day. But just like the man on TV, he wasnât immune from racism.
Green remembers a time during spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., when the team went out to eat at a local restaurant. They sat down and were ready to order when a man came over to Green and said, âHey, you canât eat here.â
âWhat are you talking about?â Green responded.
âWe donât serve you people,â the man said.
Green stood up to leave and so did every ballplayer on the team.
âHey, you guys donât have to leave,â Green said. âI know youâre hungry.â
âNo. We all go,â Green remembers one of them saying.
It was an important moment for Green.
âI didnât know I couldnât eat there,â he said. âThey didnât know either. But we were together.â
Former Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette, who was close to Green, said, âThat was a sour spot with me for them to speak like that to Pumpsie.â
Monbouquette, always known as âMonbo,â grew up in a racially mixed, working-class neighborhood in Medford, Mass. He did not tolerate any racial abuse toward blacks, especially to Pumpsie. Monbo once told then-Red Sox coach Del Baker to âshut upâ after dropping the "n"-word at an opposing player while Green was in the dugout within earshot.
Monbo and Green were friends, but they rarely stayed in the same hotel. Green remembered staying âacross the tracksâ with a black family whenever the team traveled. After games, he would have to find a taxi to take him to the black part of town. Not all taxis were willing to go.
âThatâs the way it was,â Green said. âWillie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron. We all did the same thing.â
Staying across the tracks was lonely for Green.
âThe people I knew and played with every day were somewhere else,â he said. His best friends on the team — Malzone, Monbo, Runnels, Ted Lepcio — were all âuptown or downtownâ in the hotels.
Despite the tracks, Green never lashed out.
âHe never showed displeasure with anybody on our ballclub,â Malzone said. âHe was a friend to everyone.â
Green particularly took to right-hander Earl Wilson, another black teammate.
â[Now] I was not alone,â Green said. âWe protected each other. He had my back. I had his back, and we got along great.â
The Red Sox won Game 1 of the doubleheader 4-1. Green said he almost became a hero that night during Game 2. They were two runs behind with Runnels on second base and shortstop Don Buddin on third in the bottom of the eighth inning. Green hit a fly ball to deep center field, but it was snagged for the third out.
âI got an ovation for that, too,â Green said.
The Red Sox lost 8-6, but Green went 2-for-6 that night. He went on to play in 327 games with the Red Sox, hitting .246. In 1963, he was traded to the New York Mets, where he spent his last major league season.
Green never forgot his journey and said it was great to return to Americaâs most beloved ballpark 50 years later. Malzone, Monbo and Lepcio were present for Greenâs honoring at Fenway Park.
âI hadnât seen Pumpsie in many years,â Lepcio said. âIt was like we had seen each other yesterday.â
When Green took the mound — before he threw the ceremonial first pitch — he received something that took him back to Aug. 4, 1959: a standing ovation. He stood on a major league field, and a packed Fenway house cheered for him.