Did you know Pumpsie Green's brother, Cornell Green, was a long-time safety for the Dallas Cowboys? Baseball Almanac likes to take a look "beyond the stats" and we hope you enjoy the following historical baseball article about Pumpsie Green:
THE "REAL" PUMPSIE
The Boston Red Sox became the last pre-expansion major league team to integrate black players when they promoted infielder Elijah Jerry Green from AAA in July 1959. Nicknamed "Pumpsie" by his mother, Green had been hitting .320 for Minneapolis with an OBP of .439, so the Red Sox thought he would be a good choice to help pull the franchise into the 2nd-half of the 20th century.
The Red Sox have been criticized over the years for being so slow to integrate. In fairness, Boston's attitude towards integration wasn't that much different from most of the rest of the teams in major league baseball. True, 1959 was very late to wade into the water but the Phillies only added their first black player in ‘57 and the Tigers in '58. Even the Yankees waited until 1955 (8 years after Jackie Robinson's debut) to promote catcher Elston Howard.
So, for the Red Sox, Pumpsie Green was the one.
Although Green played well for manager Gene Mauch at Minneapolis ‘59, his minor league career hadn't been exceptional. His highest batting average had been .258 for AA Oklahoma City in 1957. With the glove, Pumpsie was brutal, committing 40 errors in '57 and '32 in '58. The BoSox were hoping these stats were just growing pains and that Green's performance at AAA in '59 was indicative of the "real" Pumpsie.
The "real" Pumpsie never came close to a .320 batting average at the major league level. For the last two months of the 1959 season, Green hit just .233 while logging time at second base and shortstop. He did manage a respectable .350 OBP, helped by 29 walks in 207 plate appearances. His fielding was so-so, a .972 percentage on 248 chances, so he wasn't helping the Red Sox much in the field.
Boston added pitcher Earl Wilson, another black player, to their roster later that season. A good case could be made that the tall righty might have been a better candidate to be the first black to play for the Red Sox. After appearing in 9 games in '59, Wilson would later become a mainstay of Boston's starting rotation from 1962-65, logging double-digit win totals each year. The Louisiana native would be traded in 1966 to the Tigers, where he would win 69 games over the next five seasons, including 22 in '67.
Green fielded a little better in 1960 (.982) and lifted his average to .242 in 133 games. In 1961, Pumpsie hit .260 with a fine .376 OBP as a part-time player. However, in the field he reminded no one of sure-handed glove men like Johnny Pesky or Bobby Doerr. Reverting to his minor league form, Green logged an abysmal .940 fielding percentage at shortstop.
The Red Sox hoped Pumpsie would break-out in 1962. But his average dipped to .231 and glove work continued to be poor (.953 fielding percentage). This lack of production earned him a lot of bench time in ‘62; his season might be almost completely forgotten today had it not been for an incident that occurred on July 26 of that year.
The Red Sox had just been pounded by the Yankees in a game in which Boston pitcher Gene Conley gave up eight runs in two innings of work. After the contest, the team bus became stuck in a Manhattan traffic jam. Conley and Pumpsie asked manager Pinky Higgins if they go to a nearby bar and relieve themselves. Higgins gave the go-ahead and the pair jumped off.
Details are still a little sketchy about what happened next but apparently Conley and Green decided to hoist a brew or two (or three or maybe four) after using the rest room. When they left the bar, the team bus was gone. Miffed at being abandoned and perhaps fueled by alcohol, the pair decided to go AWOL from the Red Sox.
No one knew where they disappeared to and it made headlines across the nation. Pumpsie went to a hotel, sobered-up and returned to the team on July 27th. Conley stayed incognito (and reportedly drunk) for a couple more days before being spotted trying to board a plane to Israel at Idlewild Airport, without passport, ticket or luggage.
Conley, who is not Jewish, to this day says he doesn't know why he tried to catch a flight to Israel back in the summer of '62.
Pumpsie Green's reasons for bolting the team mid-season have never been revealed, either. Perhaps the thought of traveling to a far-away, exotic land to escape a declining career with a lousy team was quite tempting, especially after downing a few cold ones.
The 6'8" Conley was Boston's best pitcher and would be welcomed back with open arms (after being fined 2,000 dollars). He would finish the '62 season with 15 wins and would return to pitch for the Red Sox in 1963.
Pumpsie would be traded to the Mets in the offseason. In 1963, Green hit a career high .278 for Casey Stengel in 66 at-bats. Unfortunately, the spike in batting average was off-set by Green's atrocious glove work (.857).
The Mets were lovable losers but they were trying to get better. They let the 30-year-old Green go after the season. Pumpsie, hoping for another crack at the majors, finished his playing career as a minor-leaguer in 1964 and '65.
The call never came. Green retired to become a baseball coach and math teacher at Berkley High School in Berkley, California for over 20 years.
Despite less-than-stellar career stats, Green's legacy in Boston Red Sox history is well-established. In 2009, the Red Sox honored Pumpsie for being the one to break the team's color barrier.
Pumpsie Green was never a star.
But his name will be remembered for helping to close a sad chapter in American history.
A Baseball Almanac exclusive written by Yahoo! contributor Chris Williams.
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