BOSTON – Former Boston Red Sox infielder Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, the first black player on the last major league team to field one, has died. He was 85.
The Red Sox said Green, who lived in California most of his life, died Wednesday at in a hospital in San Leandro, near Oakland. No cause of death was available.
“Pumpsie Green occupies a special place in our history,” Red Sox owner John Henry said. “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 the many great Sox players of color who followed. For that, we all owe Pumpsie a debt of gratitude.”
A second baseman and shortstop, Green brought baseball's segregation era to an end of sorts when he entered a game against the Chicago White Sox as a pinch-runner for Vic Wertz on July 21, 1959 – more than a dozen years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Green joined the team on a road trip and had played nine games before taking the field at Fenway Park for the first time. Green said this year in an interview with NESN, the Red Sox TV network, that he remembered receiving a standing ovation when he came to the plate, batting leadoff.
“It was heart-warming and nerve-wracking,” he told reporters in 1997, when he returned to Boston to take part in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut. “But I got lucky: I hit a triple off the left-center fence.”
Born in Boley, Oklahoma, he moved with his family to California at a young age and met his wife, Marie Presley, at Contra Costa Junior College.
He made his professional baseball debut at 19 years old for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and was the California League's Most Valuable Player in 1955.
The Red Sox purchased his contract and he attended his first spring training with the club in 1956. He was added to the club's 40-man roster in September of 1958.