Jackie Robinson may have been the broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball overall when he took to the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947. But it would take a dozen more years, and a baseball player named Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, before the very last all-white team in the MLB, the Boston Red Sox, would field its first black player.
Green died Wednesday at a hospital in San Leandro, Calif., following a months-long illness, the New York Times reports. He was 85.
As the Times explains, despite Robinson’s success with the Dodgers, followed by that of black baseball greats—like Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Roy Campanella and Monte Irvin—throughout the league, Boston was the lone holdout in joining its fellow MLB teams on the right side of history.
Finally, in 1959, the Red Sox added Green to their roster, and he made his debut almost 60 years ago this month on July 21, 1959, in a game against the Chicago White Sox.
Green’s historic start was not without controversy.
Per the Times:
Green himself had some waiting to do. The Red Sox sent him back to their Minneapolis farm team just before the 1959 season began, saying he wasn’t quite ready for the majors, though he had showed promise as a hitter in camp.
The Boston chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., accusing the Red Sox of racial discrimination, expressed outrage at the failure to promote Green, and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, a state agency, began an inquiry. It ended when Red Sox officials promised to “make every effort” to field black players.
That player became Green, with Earl Wilson, a pitcher, joining the team as the Red Sox’s second black player a few days later.
Green, who received a call of congratulations from Jackie Robinson himself, recalled being thrilled at the opportunity to play in the majors.
“I was almost on a cloud or in a trance or something,” Green told the New England Sports Network, according to the Times. “I couldn’t breathe. I was so hyped up.”
Green was born Oct. 27, 1933, in Boley, Okla., before his parents moved the family around the start of World War II to the California Bay Area, where they took jobs in the defense industry.
Following his professional baseball career, Green coached and taught in the Berkeley, Calif., high school system.
Survivors include his wife, Marie, a daughter, two granddaughters, four great-grandchildren, and three brothers, including Cornell Green, a former defensive back with the Dallas Cowboys.