Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, the first black player for the Boston Red Sox, which in 1959 became the last major league team to integrate its roster, died July 17 at a hospital in San Leandro, Calif. He was 85.
The Red Sox announced the death, but no cause of death was immediately available.
A light-hitting second baseman and shortstop, Mr. Green brought baseball’s segregation era to an end of sorts when he entered a game against the Chicago White Sox as a pinch-runner for Vic Wertz on July 21, 1959 — more than a dozen years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Mr. Green joined the team on a road trip and had played nine games before taking the field at Fenway Park for the first time. He said this year in an interview with NESN, the Red Sox TV network, that he remembered receiving a standing ovation when he came to the plate, batting leadoff.
“It was heartwarming and nerve-racking,” he told reporters in 1997, when he returned to Boston to take part in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s debut. “But I got lucky: I hit a triple off the left-center fence.”
Elijah Jerry Green was born in Boley, Okla., on Oct. 27, 1933, and grew up in Richmond, Calif., north of Oakland. He played for what is now Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., and made his professional baseball debut at age 19 for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. He was named the California league’s Most Valuable Player in 1955.
The Red Sox purchased his contract, and he attended his first spring training with the club in 1956. He was added to the club’s 40-man roster in September 1958.
Mr. Green didn’t have the talent of Hall of Famers such as Robinson and Larry Doby, who was the first black player in the American League. The Red Sox infielder reached the majors as a role player, just once playing more than 88 games in a season, and never hitting more than six homers or batting better than .278.
Mr. Green played parts of four seasons with the Red Sox before finishing his career with one year on the New York Mets. In all, he batted .246 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs.
But his first appearance in a Boston uniform ended baseball’s ugliest chapter, and the fact that it took the Red Sox so long left a stain on the franchise — and a void in the trophy case — it is still trying to erase.
The Red Sox had a chance to sign Robinson in 1945, before the Dodgers, and Hall of Famer Willie Mays a few years later; it chose not to, decisions that help explain the 86-year World Series championship drought that didn’t end until 2004. Last year, acknowledging the poor racial record of longtime owner Thomas A. Yawkey, the team expunged his name from the street outside the ballpark.
A few days after Mr. Green was called up, the Red Sox added Earl Wilson, a black pitcher. Mr. Green said there was an informal quota system that required teams to have an even number of black players so they would have someone to room with on the road.
They were among the few black people in the clubhouse, the front office or the crowd, Mr. Green said in ’97.
“Most of the time it was just me,” he said. “It was almost an oddity when you saw a black person walking around the stands.”
But unlike Robinson, Mr. Green said, he received no death threats. “It was mostly insults,” he said then. “But you can get those at any ballpark at any time. I learned to tune things out.”
Mr. Green returned to Northern California after his baseball career ended and earned a degree in physical education from San Francisco State. He worked as a counselor and coach at Berkeley High School before retiring in the 1990s.
Survivors include his wife of 62 years, the former Marie Presley; a daughter; three brothers, including Cornell Green, a former star safety for the Dallas Cowboys; two granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren. A son died last year.
The Red Sox honored him again on Jackie Robinson Day in 2009 and 2012, but he was unable to attend the ceremony in 2018 when his debut was recognized as a historic moment by the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Upon his return to Fenway in 1997, he noticed that things had improved but still saw work to be done.
“Baseball still has its problems, and so does society,” Mr. Green said. “I don’t believe things are that much better in baseball or society. Hopefully, it will be shortly.”