14
Apr
07

Pumpsie Green Day

Today marks the sixtieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic first game as a Brooklyn Dodger. The ESPN commercials advertising Jackie Robinson Day pay tribute to the many things that he did off the field: “Being a Hall of Fame second baseman was,” as they say, “the easy part.”

Robinson was surely a great man and deserves his day, and I certainly don’t wish to minimize his contributions to the game of baseball or to American society in general. Too often, however, we forget about the other pioneers. There are many, but I would like to recognize just one. It still amazes me to think that even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, it took more than twelve years for the rest of the league to “catch up.”

Pumpsie Green made his Major League debut on July 21, 1959, becoming the first black player to suit up for the Boston Red Sox–the last team to integrate its roster. By that time, Robinson had already concluded his Hall of Fame career, but his more important work was still unfinished. Pumpsie Green was the man to take that last first step. Today, he is all but forgotten.

It would be foolish to claim that Green’s career merits a celebration on the scale of Jackie Robinson Day–in five major league seasons, he hit a mere .246–but it would be equally foolish to believe that Green’s contributions to the game can be measured in numbers.

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