Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Red Sox travels 

As part of Black History Month, a story today about Pumpsie Green, the answer to the trivia question "Who was the last African-American player to be the first on his major league baseball team?" All he wanted to do was to play for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League, which in the 1950s was considered by many players a good substitute for the major leagues. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams had been PCLers. But just as they were purchased, so was Green.

The call to play in Oakland never came. During the 1955 season, Green was having a terrific year when he was called into the manager's office. The news was a bit of a surprise -- The Boston Red Sox had purchased Green's contract and wanted him to finish the season in their farm system.

There was only one catch. Boston wanted him to head to their club in Montgomery, Alabama. It doesn't take a history professor to know that heading to Alabama in 1955, eight years after Robinson joined the Dodgers and just one after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case forced the integration of schools, was not a move most African-Americans wanted to make.

"I don't think there was a black man in America who wanted to go to Montgomery, Alabama in 1955," Green said in Herbert F. Crehan's Red Sox Heroes of Yesteryear.

He eventually was a Minneapolis Miller in 1958 and 1959. He had played well in spring training in 1959 but was sent down to the minors, perhaps because his manager, Pinky Higgins, wasn't ready to integrate the Sox. But after hitting .320 in the first half of the season and being named to the American Association All-Star team, he was called up. His minor league manager? Gene Mauch. And he might not be the most famous 2b on that team in 1959: Roy Smalley was also on the squad.

P.S. If you've never read Stew Thornley's essay on the Millers vs. The Havana Sugar Kings in the 1959 Junior World Series, you must.

Public Service Announcement: Pitchers and catchers report in ten days.

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