Pumpsie Green received a standing ovation from the fans at Fenway when he made his first home appearance as a Boston Red Sox. It was 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Red Sox were the last Major League Baseball team team to include African Americans on the roster.
He was born on October 27, 1933, as Elijah Jerry Green, Jr., in Boley, Okla., the oldest of five boys. His brother Cornell became an All-Pro safety for the Dallas Cowboys. Another brother, Credell, played a season for the Green Bay Packers.
Pumpsie played baseball growing up in Oakland, Calif., and signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Oaks during his last year of college. He played in the minors for more than six years until he was called up by the Red Sox.
Pumpsie Green broke into the majors on July 21, 1959, pinch running for the Red Sox in a 2-1 loss to the White Sox in Chicago. Green didn’t get a chance to play in front of the hometown crowd until August 9 in a game against Kansas City.
Celtics star Bill Russell greeted him when he arrived before the game, and Jackie Robinson called him in the dugout. Ted Williams made it a point to warm up with him every day.
The Red Sox didn’t have many black fans, but they did that day. Few seats were available, but the team’s management roped off a large section of center field for standing room only fans, all African American. They yelled and screamed and hollered for Pumpsie.
A Good Day at the Ball Yard
During the top of the first inning, the Red Sox third baseman fielded a sharply hit ground ball, threw it to Green for the force at second. Green threw it to first for a double play. The crowd went wild.
Then when he led off in the bottom of the inning, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. The umpire said, “Good luck Pumpsie.” He felt lightheaded.
“I said, ‘Pumpsie, 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.” When he hit a triple off the monster, “The crowd went crazy…They gave me another standing ovation. And I took a deep breath.”
And Not So Good
It wasn’t all cheers and accolades, not by a long shot. When he was in the minors, a fat fan in San Antonio used to ride him hard.
He sat right behind our dugout. I was the only black on the team. He talked about my whole family, and relatives, Africa, and everything. And I mean loud, so everybody in the park could hear him.
Truthfully speaking, he bothered the people around me and my teammates more than he bothered me, because I had heard all this stuff before. … The more he talked about me, the harder I hit the ball. He helped me raise my batting average 20 points.
When he reached the majors, he had to socialize with the African American players from other teams. His white teammates never asked him out for a beer. He learned to put the pioneering role out of his mind and ignore race issues. He ignored his tormenters. “I will not let you know that I know that you’re right there,” he said.
Pumpsie Green played four seasons for the Red Sox and one for the New York Mets before retiring. He and his wife moved back to California. He taught math and coached baseball at Berkeley High School for 20 years.
On April 17, 2009, Pumpsie Green threw out the first pitch in a ceremony honoring him 50 years after he broke into the Red Sox lineup.
He died July 17, 2019 at the age of 85.
This story was updated in 2022.
I remember him and remember Cornell better as I was living in Dallas during his prime. Didn’t know that they are brothers.
[…] Twelve years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, Pumpsie Green broke the color barrier for the Boston Red Sox. Read about his emotional first at-bat here. […]
The problem with the story is that, if one looks at the stats, Pumpsie just was not very good… and the Red Sox had better players at 2B and SS. They lost more games than they one in the year before he was brought up, and lost more games than they won the entire time he was with the Red Sox. In retrospect, the controversy was and still is more about the press and “activists” with agendas than baseball.
[…] the first black player in the American League. And he went out of his way to make friends with Pumpsie Green, the Red Sox first African-American […]
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