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.
Blue Jays closer Ken Giles hasn’t exactly turned things around since joining the Blue Jays on July 31, when the club sent embattled closer Roberto Osuna to the Astros. Giles posted a 4.99 ERA in 30 2/3 innings with the Astros, then put up a slightly less miserable 4.58 ERA in 17 2/3 innings with the Jays. Still, he’s much happier with the Jays than he was with the Astros, even after winning the World Series with them last year. He said to Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star, “I’m actually enjoying the game more than I did for my entire tenure in Houston. It’s kind of weird to say that because I won a World Series with that team. But it’s like, I just felt trapped there. I didn’t feel like myself there. Overall, I felt out of place.”
Giles also said “the communication was lost” with the Astros and it was something that came easy with the Jays. He said, “When I came here, they stayed patient with me. I said hey, I want to work on this thing till I’m comfortable. All right. OK, I’m comfortable, let’s move on to this next thing. Pitching, you can’t just try to fix everything at once. For me, I had to take baby steps to get my groove back. The Jays allowed me to do that. Yeah, the team was out of contention, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still my career. I still have to prove myself. Them being so patient with me, understanding what I want to do, was very, very big.”
Giles, 28, has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He has shown promise despite his overall mediocre numbers. In non-save situations this season (with both the Astros and Jays), he has a 9.12 ERA. But in save situations, his ERA is a pristine 0.38. Giles could be a closer the Jays find themselves leaning on as they attempt to get back into competitive shape. Since it sounds like Giles is quite enamored with Toronto and with the Blue Jays, a discussion about a contract extension certainly could be had.