NESN.com is celebrating Black History Month by honoring the first black players in the histories of the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox. Stop by each day this week for a new retrospective on a different barrier breaker.
Before Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and many other Boston Red Sox greats, past and present, there was Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green.
It’s no secret Boston was the last Major League Baseball team to integrate — a long 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. But once the organization did, on July 21, 1959, Green went down in history as the first black player to appear in a game for the Red Sox.
For Green, getting there wasn’t easy, and the adversity didn’t stop once he joined the Red Sox.
The Red Sox first called up Green for spring training in 1956, and they continued to do so for several years. When the team’s 1959 spring training came to a close, many thought Green finally had punched his ticket to Boston. They thought wrong.
Instead, Green was sent to Triple-A in Minneapolis, where he was hitting .325 come July. Opportunity knocked.
The Red Sox, who fired then-manager Mike “Pinky” Higgins on July 2, found themselves on a five-game losing streak, in eighth place and 9 1/2 games out of the division lead. They called up Green, who made his MLB debut on July 21 against the Chicago White Sox on the road.
Green received a standing ovation in his first game at Fenway Park on Aug. 4, when he helped pull off a double play in the first inning. He got the crowd on its feet for a second time when he drilled a triple off the Green Monster later in the game.
“I was almost on a cloud or in a trance or something,” Green recalled in an interview with NESN back in 2009. “I couldn’t breathe. I was so hyped up.”
The excitement was rooted much deeper than baseball. It was about all he had overcome to get there.
Back in Scottsdale, Ariz., for spring training, Green recalled an instance where the entire team went out to eat and was denied service. He told his teammates they didn’t have to leave, but they all stood up and walked out with him. Whenever he traveled with the team, he stayed “across the tracks” with a family of color, rather than in the hotel with everyone else.
Boston was no perfect city at the time, either. But, as Green previously explained, “It didn’t change me because I wouldn’t let it change me, because that experience was just another experience along the road of life. I had experienced racial prejudice. It wasn’t just Boston, (it happened) even in California where I was raised.”
In spite of the adversity, Green ended up playing in MLB for five years, four of which he spent with the Red Sox before heading to the New York Mets for his final season in 1963. He finished his career with a .246 batting average, as well as 13 home runs, 74 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
Green was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2018, one year before his death at age 85.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images