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.