We celebrate April 15 as Jackie Robinson day for obvious reasons. I feel like we should celebrate July 21 as Pumpsie Green Day. For on that day in 1959, Green became the last guy to become the first African American to play for a team in the majors.
Some team had to be the last team to integrate, and that team happened to be the Boston Red Sox. The reason — unless you happen to think that when they scouted Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays they simply didn’t see baseball talent there — is pretty much the team’s undeniable legacy of racial intolerance. Which isn’t my term, actually. It’s the term Red Sox President Larry Lucchino used when he spoke to NPR on the matter back in 2002. Tom Yawkey was racist even by the standards of his era and it’s pretty hard to see the team’s late arrival to the integration party as anything but a function of that. Heck, some have argued that moves the team was making into the 1970s were still a function of that.
But Pumpsie Green Day — which isn’t a day and isn’t, as far as I know, noted all that much officially by the Red Sox — shouldn’t be about shaming dead old Tom Yawkey. It should be about Green, who eventually played five seasons in the majors, hitting .246 with 13 homers and 74 RBI. And his achievement of course. No, it was not as notable a historic achievement to be the last first as it was to be the first first. But on that team in that city at that time, it was not nothing either. And even if Robinson’s debut ended baseball’s segregation era, Green’s debut killed the hangover.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.