Last to be First

Pumpsie Green became the first African American to play for the Boston Red Sox in 1959

February 15, 2013
Pumpsie Green (NBHOF Library)

Throughout Black History Month in February, the Hall of Fame celebrates the lives of African Americans who made historic contributions to the National Pastime.

By Adrianna Mondore 

The 1940’s and 50’s marked a historical time for all of baseball. African Americans were finally getting a chance to play for the Major Leagues, beginning in 1947 when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson to their team. In the years following, every Major League baseball team signed African-American players to their teams as well. 

In 1959, 12 years after the first African-American player was signed to a Major League team, the Boston Red Sox, the last team to be integrated, signed Elijah “Pumpsie” Green to their team. 

Green was born in Boley, Okla., in 1933 and moved to Oakland, Calif. at a young age. He was nicknamed Pumpsie, by his mother, when he was a few years old. 

In high school, Green was on the school’s baseball team. To Green, baseball was “just a game to play and have fun with.” When Green was a sophomore in high school, his coach, Gene Core, went on to become the coach for Contra Costa Junior College. Core promised Green that if he went to Contra Costa he would be able to play as a shortstop. 

In his senior year at Contra Costa, Green was offered a tryout by the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks and was signed by them. He was then moved to play for the Wenatchee Chiefs and was later moved to the Stockton Ports. He was the league MVP for the Stockton Ports in 1955 and during his season his contract was purchased by the Red Sox. Green requested and received permission to finish out the season with the Stockton Ports. 

In 1956, Green went on to train with the Red Sox in Florida for their spring training. After spring training, Boston sent him down to Triple-A Minneapolis. They kept him there until 1959 when they called on him to report to Chicago. 

On July 21, 1959, Green made his debut, becoming the first African American to play for the last integrated Major League team. For his first game, Green pinch ran for Vic Wertz and then played shortstop in a 2-1 loss against the Chicago White Sox. 

Green always stayed positive, even when faced with racial epithets. 

“Some people said I must have felt like killing somebody,” Green said. “However, I never did. I got where I could divorce it from my mind, cut it off. I told people I had enough troubles trying to hit the curveball. I wasn’t going to worry about some loudmouths.” 

Green played a total of four seasons for the Red Sox from 1959-62. He then went on to play one season for the New York Mets in 1963. 

After Green’s last game with the New York Mets on Sept. 26, 1963, he moved to Berkeley, Calif., where he was a teacher and baseball coach. 

Celebrate Black History Month with the Museum’s Pastime’s Pride features. Subjects include Buck O’NeilElston HowardRachel Robinsonthe Evolution of Night BaseballWelday WalkerHerb WashingtonConnie MorganBill White, Sam Lacy, Octavius CattoWillie Horton, Bob Watson, Pumpsie Green, Charlie Grant, William Matthews, Don Newcombe, Vic Power, Emmett Ashford and Hank Thompson.

Adrianna Mondore was a spring 2012 intern at the Baseball Hall of Fame