Photo credits: The Associated Press
The Boston Red Sox begrudgingly held a Major League tryout for Black ballplayers from the Negro Baseball League on April 16, 1945.
Many of them were regarded as among the world’s best players. However, the MLB refused to sign any of them due to “an unwritten rule at the time prohibiting hiring Black players.”
Jackie Robinson, a future Hall of Famer, as well as Marvin Williams and Sam Jethroe, traveled hundreds of miles to attend the tryouts. Players were harassed and faced cries from the crowd, including “get those niggers off the field,” during the session, which was solely attended by Red Sox management. The Red Sox managers abandoned all three Black ballplayers, sending them home without contracts or even the courtesy of a response from the team.
Wendell Smith, a Black sportswriter, coordinated the tryouts. Prior to the event, Mr. Smith called Isadore Muchnick, a Boston politician running for re-election in a mostly Black neighborhood, and pushed him to use his political clout to ensure that the tryouts were held. Mr. Muchnick threatened to ban Boston, baseball teams, from playing on Sundays unless the Red Sox and the Braves, another Boston club at the time, agreed to hold tryouts for African-American players. The tryouts were continually postponed by both organizations, with the Braves finally canceling them completely. While the Red Sox had a formal audition, Mr. Jethroe subsequently said that it was “a farce.”
Major League Baseball remained racially segregated until 1947, according to an unspoken agreement among team executives that Black players should not be signed and should instead play in a separate “Negro league.”
Two years later, in April 1947, Jackie Robinson played his debut game for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking baseball’s “color line.” In appreciation of his achievements, he was chosen to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, and his uniform number, 42, was formally retired from Major League Baseball upon his retirement. Sam Jethroe, generally considered baseball’s fastest man, signed a major league contract with the Boston Braves in April 1950 and, at the age of 33, was named the National League Rookie of the Year. Marvin Williams never signed a contract with a Major League Baseball team.
The Boston Red Sox was still segregated in 1959, 14 years after Mr. Robinson’s initial tryout and two seasons after his retirement. Pumpsie Green became the club’s first Black player after the NAACP filed a racial discrimination complaint against them and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination forced them to integrate.
They were the last Major League Baseball team to accept African-American players.