This Day in Baseball History: July 21st, 1959

Though a shortstop prospect, he played most of his games at second.

On July 21, 1959:

Elijah “Pumpsie” Green makes his debut.

Heading into the 1959 season, Elijah Green was a highly-touted shortstop prospect for the Boston Red Sox. The 25-year old had spent 5 and a half seasons in the Boston farm system, hitting a bit but mainly just playing well in the field. Blocking him from a spot in the majors was Don Buddin, a fellow 25-year old shortstop with some pop. Buddin had only hit .237 the year before and wasn’t good defensively (31 errors), but he drew enough walks (82) and hit enough home runs (12) to be valuable. Essentially, Green needed to hit to win the job.

After a quick start to Spring Training, Green fell off a bit and lost out on the starting job to Buddin. Normally, this would just go down as one of the transactions filling the following day’s newspaper, but this situation wasn’t like any other. Since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, every major-league team had employed a black player except for the Boston Red Sox, and you guessed it, Green was black. Immediately following Green’s demotion to the minor leagues, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit against the Red Sox for racial discrimination. For 12 years, the Red Sox avoided signing African-Americans. They passed up on players such as Robinson and Willie Mays.

Of course, the Red Sox denied any such claims. They had 7 black players in their farm system, and the organization believed that proved their innocence. But there’s a significant difference from having a player hidden on the farm and bringing him up in front of a national audience. In addition, it had been 12 years, and still zero black players had put on a Red Sox uniform. However, in Green’s situation, it may not have been racism as much as just a normal baseball decision. Buddin had showed some promise the season before and Green hadn’t exactly ripped minor-league pitching. Given the chance to get Green more seasoning to make sure, it wasn’t really a bad baseball move on the Red Sox part, but it was a PR disaster.

In the end, Green forced the Red Sox’s hand. 98 games, a .320 batting average, and 7 home runs later in AAA, Green was showing what he could do and hitting enough to be brought up to the major leagues. The Red Sox had no more excuses as the young man had done everything asked of him. On July 21, Green made his debut as a pinch-runner in the top of the 8th. Green went on to have a nondescript major league career, and he played in five seasons but never hit enough to keep an everyday job. Granted, he was only started 185 times in those seasons. Racism or just baseball?

Trivia Time
Poor Clay Kirby. What did his manager do to him to break one of baseball’s unwritten rules? (Hint: Kirby was a pitcher)

July 16th Answer –> True.


4 Responses to “This Day in Baseball History: July 21st, 1959”

  1. Ron Rollins Says:

    Failed to touch his ass during a visit to the mound?

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Think less ridiculous.

  3. Dan Says:

    Yanked him while he was pitching a no-hitter?

  4. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Ding, Ding, Ding!

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