The Boston Red Sox were the last team in baseball to integrate. Yet, on this day in 1945, they held a tryout for three Negro League players.
We all know of the Boston Red Sox shameful history when it comes to integration. For twelve years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, they steadfastly refused to sign any black players, due in large part to the racist beliefs of owner Tom Yawkey. Finally, in 1959, Pumpsie Green broke through and became the first black player in team history.
And yet, that did not need to be the case. On this day in 1945, the Red Sox brought in a trio of Negro League players for a workout. Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Marvin Williams were invited to Fenway Park, where they were put through the paces. However, at the end of the day, the trio left without a contract.
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Perhaps this tryout was borne of desperation. As it was wartime, teams were desperate to find anyone capable of playing in the Majors. Pete Gray spent a year as a Major League outfielder despite having just one arm. Bert Shepard made an appearance with the Washington Senators as a pitcher, even though he had one leg. Anyone with a slight bit of talent, and a somewhat healthy body, had a chance at playing in the Majors that year.
However, that need for players did not open the doors for Negro League players to join the Majors, at least just yet. Robinson, who would break the color barrier just two years later, would be signed by the Dodgers in a few months. Jethroe spent three years with the Braves, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1950 and leading the National League in steals in each of his first two seasons. Although Williams never made the Majors, he was a noted power hitter in the minors and in the Mexican League, hitting an estimated 175 homers, including 45 long balls in the Arizona-Texas League in 1952. However, despite his pop, and although he was in nine different organizations, Wililams never made the Majors.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, began to struggle. As the sport became integrated, and Boston refused to change with the times, they were left behind. What had been a contending franchise fell to the bottom of the American League, as they no longer had the same caliber of players as the rest of the game. Robinson, meanwhile, had gone on to a Hall of Fame career. It is safe to say that all three players they brought in could have helped change their fortunes.
Before he signed with the Dodgers, Jackie Robinson was one of three Negro League players to have a tryout with the Boston Red Sox on this day in 1945. However, they walked away unsigned, to the Red Sox’ detriment.