A century later, Red Sox celebrates diversity

Bijan C. Bayne | 4/4/2012, 7:34 a.m.
Pumpsie Green (R) was the first African American to play for the Red Sox. He is shown here...

Besides, this was after the season had started and we didn’t sign players off tryouts in those days to play in the big leagues. I was in no position to offer them a job. The general manager did the hiring and there was an unwritten rule at that time against hiring black players. I was just the manager.”

In 1967, the Boston Red Sox “Impossible Dream” team, picked by most baseball experts to finish ninth in the twelve-team American League, captured the A.L. pennant on a thrilling final day of the season.

As American urban centers such as Newark and Detroit burned in racial unrest, pivotal black and Latino players Elston Howard, George Scott, Joe Foy, Reggie Smith, John Wyatt, and Jose Santiago contributed to a ballclub led by slugger Carl Yastrzemski.

A year earlier, in an unprecedented incident of social outspokenness, that most famous Sox star of them all, Ted Williams, surprised listeners to his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech by stating: “Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as anybody else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope some day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.”

In 1975, with the Hub mired in passionate debate and widespread violence over forced school integration by busing, the Red Sox returned to the World Series for the first time since 1967. As in ’67, Carl Yastrzemski was the heart and soul of a team featuring significant black and Caribbean talent, including Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, Cecil Cooper, and the mercurial Rogelio Moret.

Like the ’67 club, the ’75 Bosox lost a heartbreaking World Series, but fielded a lineup the entire city could celebrate, from Roxbury to Charlestown. In 1986, Don Baylor, Jim Rice, Dave Henderson, and Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd propelled Boston to another World Series.

The Braves left town after 1952, when ownership believed the city would no longer support a lackluster team in a town that favored the Red Sox. They played in Milwaukee until 1965, when Atlanta clamored for the major league status that would accompany having the first such franchise in the Deep South.