Time to end Roxbury’s curse on The Red Sox?
With spring training approaching, is it time for Roxbury to end its curse on the Boston Red Sox, forgiving but not forgetting the team’s racist history? The 2018 Major League Baseball season started a new era for the Red Sox and ended with a remarkable irony. The first indication that a new era had dawned was the Annual Baseball Writers Dinner at the Boston Marriott Copley in January, 2018. Seated at the head table was Red Sox centerfielder and 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Awardee, Jackie Bradley, Jr., an African American born in Richmond, Virginia. Also seated at the head table was Alex Cora, a Latino American born in Caguas, Puerto Rico who in November 2017 had become the first Red Sox manager from a racial minority group.
As the 2018 season progressed, Cora guided the Red Sox to win a franchise best 108 regular season games, the best in Major League Baseball. Remarkably ironic, the last Major League Baseball team to integrate its lineup, the Red Sox, had beaten the Dodgers, the first Major League team to integrate its lineup. Last year the Red Sox fielded the most racially integrated lineup in their 115-year history. For the majority of their 162 regular seasons games Rookie Red Sox Manager Alex Cora would start 10 players that included at least five African Americans or Latinos. Despite the team’s establishment in 1903, it was not until July 21, 1959 that the Red Sox added a minority to their roster: Major League Baseball rookie, 25 year old Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, an African American from Boley, Oklahoma. But even then, he was only signed as a back-up player. Green went on to play the next three full seasons for the Sox ’60,’61 and ’62, mainly as a pinch runner or in a day-off replacement role for infielders. The Red Sox failed in those years to make it to the World Series. Pumpsie ended his Major League career with the New York Mets in 1963.
By contrast, on April 15, 1947 the Brooklyn Dodgers had begun their season by starting at second base, in an everyday role, 28 year-old Major League Baseball rookie Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson. He was the first African American to play for a Major League team. Robinson played his entire 10 year Major League career with the Dodgers, which won the 1955 World Series. He retired on October 10, 1956. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles the following year to start the 1957 season.
Robinson had played the 1945 and ’46 seasons for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Baseball League and was an All Star. As his fame spread throughout America, Major League teams began to invite Robinson for a tryout. The legend, disputed by some, is that one such tryout occurred at Fenway Park in Boston in 1946 during which South Carolina born, then Red Sox owner, Tom Yawkey supposedly was heard to have said, “Get that n***** off my field.” The present management’s abhorrence for any such attitude or policy culminated in April, 2018 with Yawkey’s name being stripped from one of the streets bordering Fenway Park, restoring its former name, Jersey Way. It was Dodgers owner Branch Rickey who offered Robinson a contract for the 1947 season. When word got out that Robinson would be coming to Florida for spring training, there were threats to blow up the Dodgers Florida baseball facility. As a result, Dodgers spring training for 1947 was moved to Cuba.
The significance of that move was not lost on President Barack Obama on March 22, 2016 when he attended the historic exhibition Major League Baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team while on a goodwill tour to renew relations between the U.S. and Cuba. In an ESPN interview celebrating the 69th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s integration of baseball, Obama said about baseball,” It can change attitudes sometimes in ways that a politician can never change, that a speech can’t change.” It has been said, if you want to understand America, you have to understand baseball, and if you don’t understand baseball you can’t truly understand America.
Boston’s racial climate has enjoyed major change over the 60 baseball seasons spanning 1959 Red Sox African American rookie player Pumpsie Green to 2018 Red Sox World Series champion Latino rookie miracle manager Alex Cora. Boston is overcoming its racist past. Racial progress in baseball and Boston public life are on the same path. Now it is time for Roxbury to journey into the future by enjoying the success of the Boston baseball miracle and ending its curse on the Red Sox.
Jack Drewry is a Boston attorney and adjunct professor.