Monday, November 22, 2010

Feature: Race and the Red Sox

One of the biggest issues that I have being a fan of the Red Sox is their rather horrible history in race relations. To begin with, the Red Sox were the last team in the Major Leagues to have an African American player. That part is well-known. What is not as well-known is that they had numerous opportunities to make a big impact with an African American player.

The Red Sox were the first Major League team to give Jackie Robinson a tryout. The Red Sox held a tryout at Fenway Park in 1945 for Robinson and eventual NL Rookie of the Year Sam Jethroe, as well as Marvin Williams. It was clear that Robinson could play, the same went for Jethroe. However, the Red Sox did not intend to actually be the first team to integrate. The tryout was a complete sham, orchestrated to make the team look like they wanted to bring in an African American player. It has become widely known that Tom Yawkey, the Hall of Fame owner of the Red Sox was extremely racist and did not want an African American on the team at this time. Robinson went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, debuting in 1947.

The Red Sox also passed on an opportunity to bring in Willie Mays. The team had a minor league affiliate in Birmingham. Birmingham's GM alerted the Red Sox GM Joe Cronin to the availability of Mays and the cheap cost it would take to sign him. Cronin passed.

In 1959, Green finally became the first African American player for the Red Sox. Green was not nearly the player that Jackie Robinson or Willie Mays were. Green spent four seasons as a backup middle infielder for the Red Sox, and played regularly at second base in 1960. Green hit .244/.353/.360/.713 for the Red Sox with 12 home runs, 69 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases. He was a switch hitter, increasing his value, but was not much of a fielder. He was later traded to the Mets with Al Moran and Tracy Stallard for Felix Mantilla, who would be an All Star for the Sox.

So, Green was the first, but he was not a star. Boston continued to have some problems with race relations as history went on. The Red Sox would begin to have some star African American players, beginning in 1959. Earl Wilson made history by being the first African American to throw a no-hitter, and was a damn fine hitter for a pitcher. George Scott arrived in the late 1960's and was a great defensive first baseman and power hitter. Reggie Smith was the first big African American star for the Red Sox. Jim Rice was a major star, MVP, and eventual Hall of Famer. Ferguson Jenkins was acquired to shore up the pitching staff in the late 1970's. Don Baylor was acquired in 1986 to add power to the DH position. Ellis Burks developed into a fine all around player in the 1980's. Mo Vaughn won the MVP in 1995. Carl Everett was an All Star in 2000. And there have been many more.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox still battle a perception of being racist. Several African American players in recent years have stated publicly that they would not play for the Red Sox because of the racist perception, including Barry Bonds, David Justice, Marquis Grissom, and others. Several times recently, articles are printed criticizing the Red Sox for not having many African American players. Right now, Mike Cameron is the only African American assured of a job with the Red Sox next year. This is most probably not due to the organization, but a trend in general where there has been a decline in African American players in the Major Leagues.

I am embarrassed by the Red Sox poor history of race relations, but hiding from that history is not the answer. It must be confronted and efforts made to change the problems of the past.

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