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The Boston Red Sox and Racism
With New Owners, Team Confronts Legacy of Intolerance

audio icon  Listen to Juan Williams' report.

video Watch a video of Ted Williams' 1966 Hall of Fame speech in which he addressed racism in baseball.

more Read excerpts from Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston by Howard Bryant.

Pumpsie Green swings a bat
Pumpsie Green was the first African American to play for the Boston Red Sox. He joined the team in 1959, a dozen years after Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Photo courtesy Sports Museum of New England, Shut Out: A History of Race and Baseball in Boston by Howard Bryant (Routledge)

Ted Williams gives Hall of Fame speech
The Red Sox's Ted Williams, speaking during his 1966 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, laments that Satchel Page, Josh Gibson and other African-American players weren't given the same recognition.
Photo courtesy Boston Red Sox

video Watch a video of Williams' speech

Red Sox owner John Henry
John Henry heads the new Red Sox ownership group that has decided to confront the team's legacy of racism.
Photo: Chip Grabow, NPR News

"I think we have to make a statement not just in baseball but in our community that diversity is an issue that hasn't been fully addressed in the past and certainly has to be fully addressed."

John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox

Oct. 11, 2002 -- The Boston Red Sox were the last major league baseball team to integrate their roster. In 1959 -- 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the league's color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers -- the Red Sox brought infielder Pumpsie Green up from the minors.

The legacy of racial exclusion on the Red Sox extended into the Fenway Park stands, where black fans often felt unwelcome. But as Juan Williams reports for Morning Edition, the team's new owners have decided to confront the emotional story of Boston, baseball and racism.

Larry Lucchino, president and CEO of the Red Sox, and part of the new ownership that took over the team in February, acknowledges that along with the team's positive traditions, the club's history has included "an undeniable legacy of racial intolerance."

"You can't grow up in America as a sports fan and not recognize the role that baseball played both negatively and positively in the racial history of America," Lucchino says. "And the fact that it took until 1959 for Pumpsie Green to integrate the Sox infield speaks volumes."

The history goes back to before baseball was integrated. Oddly enough, the Red Sox held a tryout at Fenway Park for Jackie Robinson in April 1945. But with only management in the stands, someone yelled "Get those niggers off the field," according to a reporter who was there that day. Two years later, Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black player of the 20th century to play in the major leagues.

In 1949, the Red Sox gave up the chance to sign future Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who would go on to hit more career home runs than all but one man before him and electrify crowds with his defensive play. As Juan Williams reports, "one of the team's scouts decided that it wasn't worth waiting through a stretch of rainy weather to scout any black player. That decision killed the possibility that Mays and Ted Williams might have played in the same outfield for the Red Sox."

Howard Bryant, a Boston native, has just written Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston. Bryant rooted for the Red Sox as a 7-year-old when the team was in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. But he soon learned that black adults would rather root for the Dodgers and other integrated clubs than for the home team.

"The Red Sox were one of the most racist teams in baseball," Bryant says. "You've got a 50-year legacy of difficulties between the Red Sox and the African-American population."

Bryant says the team now has an opportunity to set a positive example on race for the city. "This ownership group is the first in Red Sox history that has pledged to take this problem on head-on because they realize it's not only race, it's economics," he says.

As a first step in addressing the team's history of discrimination, the new ownership reached out to black churches. The Red Sox started and equipped a 16-team Boston area church league with 500 players between the ages of 10 and 14. Juan Williams also reports that the Red Sox also are: trying to find a black or Hispanic multi-millionaire to join their new ownership group; starting a scholarship program for city kids; doing business with black radio stations; and organizing visits by Red Sox officials to black and Hispanic civic and religious groups.

John Henry, now the principal owner of the Red Sox, says the team has to demonstrate that its attitude on race has changed. "I think we have to make a statement not just in baseball but in our community that diversity is an issue that hasn't been fully addressed in the past and certainly has to be fully addressed," he says. "I think it's important what your actions are. That will really define the franchise going forward."

In Depth

more Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball.

more The death of Ted Williams.

more icon Search for more NPR stories on the Boston Red Sox and baseball.

Other Resources

• See a Boston Red Sox timeline.