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Black History

Pumpsie Green, Red Sox’s first Black player, paved way for team’s future

Elijah "Pumpsie" Green broke the Red Sox color barrier in 1959.Harold Filan/Associated Press

This Black History Month, the Globe is saluting people who have made a difference in Massachusetts.

When Elijah “Pumpsie” Green was inserted as a pinch runner in Comiskey Park on July 22, 1959, he made history.

“I had one thing in mind — to play in the majors — and I made it,” Green told the Globe in 1980.

That day, Green became the Red Sox’s first Black player, and the team became the last pre-expansion MLB team to integrate.

Born in 1933 in Boley, Okla., Green grew up in California and played baseball throughout his school years. In 1953, he signed a contract with the minor leagues, where he caught the attention of major league scouts.

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(From left) Boston Red Sox Pumpsie Green, Don Schwall, and Gary Geiger sat in the locker room at Fenway Park, July 23, 1961. Jack Sheahan/Globe Staff

“He’s made impossible plays,” then-Minneapolis Millers manager Gene Mauch told the Globe in 1959. “He had one of the greatest double-headers ... that I ever saw.”

The Red Sox brought Green, a second-baseman, to Boston in 1959 but sent him back to the minors shortly after, sparking accusations of discrimination from the Boston NAACP and locals.

“I never relaxed in Boston,” Green recalled in 1997. “Every game to me was like Opening Day. I felt pressure all the time.”

Green spent much of his time segregated from his white teammates, combatted racism from some team managers, and endured racial slurs from spectators.

Yet, he never held a grudge.

“I refused as much as possible to be bitter, because basically I’m a nice person,” Green told the Globe in 1997. I can’t walk around and be mad at the world.”

He played four seasons with the Red Sox and one with the New York Mets before retiring in 1965 with a career .246 major league batting average. Green later earned a physical education degree and coached high school baseball in California.

Green threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park to celebrate 50 years of integration in 2009 and Jackie Robinson Day in 2012. Green was also recognized by the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2018 but has not been inducted.

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He died in 2019 at age 85.

“He paved the way for the many great Sox players of color who followed,” said Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe. “For that, we all owe Pumpsie a debt of gratitude.”

Elijah "Pumpsie" Green threw out a ceremonial first pitch for the Red Sox's baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Boston in 2009. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.