This February, Sports Illustrated is celebrating Black History Month by spotlighting a different iconic athlete or group of athletes every day. Today, SI looks back on the legacy of Pumpsie Green.
Pumpsie Green became the first African-American player in the history of the Boston Red Sox in 1959. They were the last team to desegregate in MLB.
The Red Sox, under owner Tom Yawkey, were one of the most racist organizations across all of professional sports.
Yawkey systemically used racial slurs to refer to African-Americans and poured dollars into the pockets of segregationist politicians in his home state of South Carolina.
Pinky Higgins, Boston’s general manager, once vowed, “There’ll be no n—— on this ball club as long as I have anything to say about it.”
Yawkey had plenty of chances to sign black players—most notably, when they hosted Jackie Robinson for a tryout in 1945—but he always declined to do so.
Even the manager in 1959—the season Green was eventually called up—once said he would never have a black player on his team for as long as he had a say on the matter.
That manager resigned, citing alcoholism. Three weeks later, Green was in the big leagues.
Under this environment, Green stepped up and became a member of the Red Sox, 12 years after Jackie Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers. By the time Green became the Red Sox’s first African-American player, Robinson, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella and Hank Aaron, among others, were established major-league stars.
Green didn’t enjoy the same on-field success during his four seasons in Boston. But as the first black player on the final team to integrate, Green is most definitely worthy of remembrance.