You may have read in many places that for years Boston sportswriters “tiptoed around” the issue of racism in the Red Sox organization. Mike Passanisi found one example that might be of interest in the Boston Globe on October 3, 1954.
Thanks to Mike for the submission.
By Mike Passanisi
The fall of 1954 was an interesting time for baseball fans. It was not because of the Red Sox, who had finished fourth, an incredible 42 games behind the Cleveland Indians. Their 69-85 record marked the third straight year of sub-.500 ball and would soon lead to the firing of manager Lou Boudreau.
But it was also the year of one of the World Series’ most shocking upsets, a four-game sweep by the New York Giants over Cleveland, who had set a season record with 111 wins. The tempo of that series was set in the first game, in which Willie Mays made his famous over-the-shoulder basket catch of Vic Wertz’s long drive. Mays’ play kept the contest tied at 2, and New York would go on to win 5-2 in 10 innings. Behind two victories from young Johnny Antonelli, the Giants easily took the next three contests. The series is today part of “Indians Curse” folklore.
As the Fall Classic ended, a curious piece by the Globe’s respected Harold Kaese on October 3rd, 1954 was entitled “No Segregation in the Big Leagues.” Kaese, a learned man with interests beyond baseball, was making the point that even before the Supreme Court’s recent Brown vs Board of Education decision calling for school desegregation, baseball had almost fully integrated.
Citing black stars like Mays, Al Smith, Hank Thompson, and Ruben Gomez, he wrote “ten years ago these men would have been unknowns to all except the comparative few who followed Negro League ball. They would not have been heard of in New England.“
Kaese does not totally dodge the “elephant in the room” issue of the Red Sox being one of only four teams (the Yankees, Phillies and Tigers were the other three) which were still totally white. He does mention the “tryout” of Jackie Robinson and two other black stars at Fenway in 1945, but says only that “they heard nothing more from the Red Sox.” He also tells a story, possibly true, that some Boston players stated that they would not let a “Negro” into their clubhouse. Hy Hurwitz, another Globe icon, apparently arranged for Ted Williams to bring Joe Louis in when the team was in New York. According to Kaese, “every Sox player wanted to shake his hand.”
The most direct mention of possible racism appears around the middle of the article, speaking of the all-white teams. “None of these clubs admits to be segregatioinistic. They do not openly favor racial discrimination. What they say is ‘we are perfectly willing to employ a Negro player when we find one we think can help us.’ ‘ A very familiar racist line, as we have come to find out.
One glaring omission was made by Kaese. He expresses a hope that the Sox “can find a Willie Mays or Henry Thompson before too many World Series are played in other cities” What Kaese must have known is that the Sox could easily have had Mays. He had played for the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons. Boston had a minor league team in Birmingham and, by league rules, would have had first shot at signing Willie Instead, he went to the Giants in 1951 and the rest, of course, is history.
Imagine Mays patrolling center field in Fenway with Williams in left and future MVP Jackie Jensen in right ? How many more pennants would the Sox have won? Kaese’s article is common among writers for many years regarding the team’s organizational racism. Gently criticize, but don’t dig too deep.