Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston
by Howard Bryant
The Boston Red Sox have a historic problem, and it's got nothing
to do with the 84 years that separate them from their last
championship. Perennial heartbreak, after all, is part of the Red
Sox charm, along with Fenway Park and fans who use the word
wicked for emphasis. But there's nothing charming about the other
Red Sox problem: Since 1959, when the team became the last in
major league baseball to field an African-American player, the
Red Sox have had a reputation for being the team least welcoming
to blacks. In Boston there's an ongoing debate over the fairness
of this charge.
But Boston-raised Bryant, who covers the New York Yankees for the
Bergen County, N.J., Record, details the Red Sox' dismal record
on race. The problem, as he describes it, is both the overt
bigotry of old-timers such as manager Pinky Higgins, who swore
"there would never be any niggers" on the team as long as he was
skipper (he managed from 1955 through '59 and again from mid-1960
through '62), and the quieter prejudice of men like Joe Cronin,
who admitted in 1979 that in the '30s and '40s, when he was a
player and manager for the Sox, "we all thought it was better to
have separate leagues" for blacks and whites.
Pumpsie Green, the Red Sox' first black player, says that in the
early '60s coaches thought nothing of using the n word in his
presence. In the '70s outfielder Reggie Smith was jeered by a
white teammate for acting like "a white man trapped in a black
man's body" (whatever that means). In '85 first base coach Tommy
Harper protested a Red Sox spring training custom of dining at a
whites-only Elks Club in Winter Haven, Fla., and the Sox repaid
him by firing him after the season. (Harper sued the team for
discrimination in '86, and the sides settled out of court.) In
'89 outfielder Ellis Burks was the only African-American player
on the team and claims that manager Joe Morgan warned him not to
date white women. Even the staunchest Red Sox rooters must
concede that these men can't all have imagined the racism.
Who's to blame? Bryant says it's Tom Yawkey, who owned the team
from 1933 until his death in '76, and his surviving partners.
Bryant argues that as bigotry simmered on the team for decades,
Yawkey & Co. did almost nothing about it, thereby sending a
signal that it was fine to use African-Americans as targets and
scapegoats. It's a shame--a wicked shame--but new ownership may be
the best prescription for Red Sox fans who want to see their team
leave this grotesque legacy behind. As Sox co-owner John Henry,
who bought the team last February, tells Bryant, "It doesn't have
to be this way."
COLOR PHOTO: ROUTLEDGE
B/W PHOTO: RICHARD MEEK (HIGGINS) NO CHANCE Higgins vowed to keep black players off his team.