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Elijah “Pumpsie” Green Dies at 85 After Breaking Boston Red Sox Color Barrier in 1959

Red Sox Hall of Fame second-baseman Elijah “Pumpsie” Green has passed at the age of 85, nearly 60 years to the day in which he broke the color line in Red Sox baseball.

Nearly 60 years ago today, on July 21, 1959, it was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green who officially shattered the color-line which prevented a single player of color ever stepping foot in a major league baseball game with a Boston Red Sox uniform on. The Boston Red Sox were the last of 16 major league ball clubs to de-segregate and welcome in their first black player into their clubhouse. Green, 26, took one of the most important steps in the history of Boston Red Sox baseball, pinch-running in the eighth inning for Vic Wertz against the Chicago White Sox in Comiskey Park.

It wouldn’t come until 12 years after Jackie Robinson himself broke the major league baseball color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A baseball Hall of Fame talent who Boston passed on signing in 1945, alongside Willie Mays just a few years later. Boston instead elected to endure their 86-year curse which left generations after generations with an internal void of never witnessing a Red Sox World Series title.

Seven days later, after his debut in Chicago, on July 28, Green would record his first major league base-hit off Cleveland’s Jim Perry. It was Green’s fourth major league start for the Red Sox and on that very day, it wasn’t long until Green found company- as Earl Wilson made his debut, becoming the second black player to ever wear a Red Sox uniform. Wilson is iconically known for no-hitting the Los Angeles Angels, while belting a home run in the very same 2-0 victory at Fenway Park just three years later on June 26.

In February of 1959, the Red Sox had made the signing of Elijah Green official. Green would then work his way through the minor league farm system following an impressive spring camp for the Red Sox in which he batted .327. He would then earn minor league All-Star honors and find himself called up to the Red Sox roster following a Boston managerial change that welcomed aboard former Chicago Cubs shortstop Billy Frederick Jurges- booking his very first and only ever manager gig in baseball.

Back in Boston, Green was awaited at Fenway Park by none other than his high school friend and Boston Celtic Bill Russell.

“I got my helmet and started walking up to home plate, and I got a standing ovation”, Green stated when recalling his very first at-bat in Fenway Park during that very same 1959 debut season. “It made me nervous as heck. The one thing I didn’t want to do was strike out and walk all the way back to the dugout.”

Fortunately Green would have to let the inning play on before taking that walk back to the dugout he feared. Against former minor league opponent in Kansas City’s pitcher, Green would belt a triple to lead-off the inning off the left center-field area in Fenway.

His first ever Fenway Park base-hit in front of a Boston crowd. Green described that moment as “the greatest feeling I ever had in baseball.”

Pumpsie Green would go on to play 50 games for the Red Sox in their 5th place, 1959 season in which they finished 75-79. Green would finish that debut season batting .233/.350/.320 with one home run, 10 runs batted in, and a total 40 base hits in 172 at-bats. He would go on to play three more seasons for the Boston Red Sox in which Pumpsie played in 372 career games for Boston, 742 at-bats, hitting .244/.353/.360 with 12 home runs, 69 runs batted in, 12 stolen bases, 181 hits, and 111 runs.

After battling and enduring the harsh reality of being a man of color playing major league baseball in the 1960s, Green dealt with added injustices of racial discrimination throughout his tenure with the Red Sox. In fact, during Green’s minor-league days he could recall memories in which the team “bus would pull up to a hotel, and all the ballplayers would get off. The black players had to take a cab across to what we called ‘across the tracks’, to the black part of town.” That was only accompanied by the inescapable realities of a major league baseball player, being the injury complications that Green also had to battle just to stay on the big league diamond.

He would spend his Red Sox playing days living in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Spending some days with fellow Boston sports athlete in Boston Celtics center Bill Russell. Showing up and engaging in team practices, Green built relationships with those outside the Red Sox organization while maintaining bonds with guys like Ted Williams, who he described as “one of the nicest guys I ever met.”

In 1960 Green would play a career-high 133 games for the seventh-place American League Red Sox who would finish 65-89, 32 games behind the crowned A.L. Champion New York Yankees. Unfortunately Green would never go on to reach the 100+ games played finish line again in his career. He’d spend just two more seasons in Boston, playing in 88 games in 1961, and 56 games in 1962. All coming before his groundbreaking stint with the Red Sox came to an end through a trade that sent Green to the New York Mets. Pumpsie Green, Al Moran (shortstop) and Tracy Stallard (right-handed pitcher) were sent to New York in exchange for Felix Mantilla (second baseman). This trade would make Felix Mantilla the first Puerto Rican Red Sox player.

Following his baseball career, Elijah Green would go on to graduate from San Francisco State University with a degree in physical education. Fresh off a four-year career in professional baseball, Green wasn’t done involving himself in the game. He would apply his classroom learnings alongside his four major league baseball seasons to devote the next 25 years of his life coaching the very sport he pioneered, before officially retiring in 1997.

“He was, by his own admission, a reluctant pioneer, but we will always remember him for his grace and perseverance in becoming our first African American player. He paved the way for many great Sox players of color who followed. For that, we all owe Pumpsie a debt of gratitude”, said Red Sox owner John Henry.

Henry couldn’t have said it any better. Thanks to Elijah “Pumpsie” Green’s courage, devotion, and overall strength that led him to Fenway Park in a Red Sox uniform, Red Sox nation now gets to enjoy the viewership of seeing players such as Jackie Bradley Jr and Mookie Betts today. It was thanks to Pumpsie that we not only witnessed the careers of Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez, and David Ortiz unfold, but honor their legacies through their retired numbers on Fenway’s right-field roof deck.

Rest in peace Pumpsie! Enjoy your much deserved eternal walk along the field of dreams.

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