The RIBBE Celebrates Great Achievements in Baseball For February’s Black History Month

Since the 1970’s, The United States has celebrated Black History Month in February. Other countries (Canada, The United Kingdom, Ireland, and The Netherlands) also celebrate the history, people, and events which helped shape history, for all races, not just those of African American descent. According to the book “The Origins of Black History Month” by Daryl Michael Scott, “The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week”. This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.

Here are a few acknowledgements that I would like to share to help celebrate Black History Month via a baseball themed blog.

The first black player to play for the Boston Red Sox was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green. Green made his professional debut with the Sox on the road in Chicago on July 21, 1959. In that game, Green was inserted as a pinch runner and finished the game in the field. Green would get his first professional hit several days later, July 28th, a single against the Cleveland Indians. His first home game as a member of the Boston Red Sox was August 4 of 1959. It was the first time a black player was in the starting lineup at Fenway park, and in that first game Pumpsie Green led off the batting order for the hometown Red Sox. And in his first at-bat, Green smacked a triple and later scored the game’s first run. There is an incredible account of his life in the Society of American Baseball Research archives online written by baseball historian Bill Nowlin. Go to www.sabr.org/bioproj/person/f9472d8a to learn more about Pumpsie Green. You won’t be disappointed.

Also in 1959, Earl Wilson joined the pitching staff of the Boston Red Sox. Wilson had a few up and down years with the Red Sox before making his mark in the 1962 season. On June 26th, 1962 at Fenway Park, Earl Wilson pitched himself into the record books by becoming the first African American pitcher to throw a no-hitter. He also helped his own cause by hitting a home run in the game. Here is more on Earl Wilson, once again from the SABR online archives www.sabr.org/bioproj/person/9e0a9624. The extra hard work, the racism they had to endure, the struggle to be accepted as professional baseball players, like their white teammates, in the 1950’s makes the stories of Pumpsie Green and Earl Wilson so incredibly important to read. In 2018, the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame recognized Green’s achievement. According to www.redsox.com “the major league debut of Pumpsie Green, who became the first African American player in Red Sox history on July 21, 1959, has been selected as the “Memorable Red Sox Moment,” a moment in Red Sox history that is regarded for its special significance.”

Photo from “Images of Modern American, Fenway Park” by Raymond Sinibaldi

One of the most respected volunteers in Rhode Island baseball is Richard Hemphill of Olneyville at Silver Lake Little League. Richard does a great job in the Providence community being a positive voice of encouragement for youth athletes. His posts online are about sportmanship and loyalty and leadership and I look forward to our conversations about baseball and community involvement. I asked Richard to give me his thoughts on race in America today, as it pertains to sports. Here are his remarks: “I greatly appreciate your articles on Blacks contributions to baseball. Some may ask, Why are we focusing on this topic? Well, imagine being denied opportunity because of the color of your skin. Or your ethnicity. Imagine being considered less than human. Or being considered property. This is the Black Experience in America. These guys pioneered Blacks opportunity and equality. Its why I love sports. Sports brings people together. Makes us realize we are all the same. The differences exists only in ones mindset. Sports gives people the opportunity to get to know and respect others. Regardless of Race or Ethnicity. Unfortunately, there are still those who have certain attitudes and prejudices that may or may not be of their own making. Some are born into it. Some are raised into it. And some are influenced into it. Unfortunately, there are those who feel the need or desire to express their views or disdain towards others simply based on their Ethnicity. That’s too bad. We should all have a mutual respect for each other. Baseball is considered Americas Sport. And rightly so. And as Americans, we should all represent the sport in the best light. We breathe the same air, we live in the same country. We love the same game.”

Richard Hemphill at Olneyville Silver Lake Little League baseball field

Last fall, my wife and I attended an amazing exhibit at the Bristol Art Museum. A lecture “Only A Game” about Rhode Island’s connection to black baseball was given. Historical books, artwork, postcards, and paintings were on display for visitors to observe. It was an incredible afternoon of realism and sadness to learn how these baseball men and women of color were treated, and sadly not too long ago. Here are some images of that exhibit. You can more about my visit by clicking this link – Only A Game.

Baseball has certainly acknowledged the accomplishments of pioneers such as Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and Frank Robinson as well as others such as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson with commemorative days, Hall of Fame enshrinement, and much more . Hollywood movies have helped shed light on the stages leading up to the professional debuts of the likes of Jackie Robinson (“42”). SABR has an incredible archive online of stories, games, and baseball events in Black History. In recent years, the Boston Red Sox, who were the last professional baseball team to have an African American player on their roster, included Pumpsie Green’s professional debut as a “Memorable Red Sox Moment” in their Hall of Fame. Green threw out the first pitch on Jackie Robinson Day in 2012. All great points and we as a Rhode Island community must continue to strive for positivity and diversity and encourage the dialogue about race in our baseball leagues and organizations.

For more information SABR, the Society of American Baseball Research, visit their website at www.sabr.org.

Thanks again to Richard Hemphill for his commentary on sports today. For more information on Olneyville at Silver Lake Little League, visit their Facebook page – Olneyville Silver Lake

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