Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston
By Howard Bryant
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The tryout finally took place at Fenway Park at eleven on the morning of
April 6, 1945. Two above-average Negro leaguers, Sam Jethroe and Marvin
Williams, joined Jackie Robinson. The Red Sox players were white and mostly
minor league pitchers. Starting the season the following day in New York,
the big league roster was given the day off by Joe Cronin. The routine was
mundane. The players fielded, threw, they took batting practice. Hugh
Duffy, the former great Red Sox outfielder, ran the tryouts and took notes
on index cards. Cronin sat, according to one account, "stone faced."
Another depicted Cronin barely watching at all. Isadore Muchnick (who had
pressured the Red Sox to try out black players) marveled at the hitting
ability of Robinson, whose mood apparently darkened. When it ended he,
Jethroe and Williams received platitudes from Duffy. Joe Cashman of the
Boston Record sat with Cronin that day and reported that the man was
impressed by Robinson. He wrote cryptically, and with virtually little
comprehension, that he could have been witnessing a historic moment.
"Before departing, Joe and his coaches spent 90 minutes in the stands at
Fenway surveying three Negro candidates... Why they came from such distant
spots to work out for the Red Sox was not learned." The Boston Globe did
not cover the tryout.
Robinson himself was satisfied with his performance, although by the time
he left Fenway he was smoldering about what he felt to be a humiliating
charade. As the three players departed, Eddie Collins told them they would
hear from the Red Sox in the near future. None of them ever heard from the
Red Sox again.
Few people would ever see the human, elder statesman side of Jim
Rice, but he immediately took Ellis Burks on as a protégé. When Burks was
called up in 1987, Rice told Red Sox clubhouse man Vince Orlando to put
Burks' locker next to Rice's. Like Bill Russell and Pumpsie Green 30 years
earlier, Rice took Burks around the city, gave him primers on the various
climates of the organization. With Burks, Rice was everything he had long
been accused of not being -- a leader.
If Jim Rice would not speak to anyone in public about the racial
climate of the team or the city, he privately expressed concerns with Ellis
Burks. The organization, he said, was a decent one. Lou Gorman, the Red Sox
general manager, was a good man. They were skittish about race throughout
the organization, but Gorman treated him well. Rice was wary of Red Sox
management for years, both Sullivan and Gorman for the simple fact that the
club appeared to have no interest in black free agents. It was clear to
Ellis Burks that the years Rice spent as the only black on the club, years
that were supposed to be his prime, were lonely and difficult ones.
Rice never spoke out, but he gave Ellis Burks a telling piece of
advice that provided important insight into Rice's feelings about Boston
and his years with the Red Sox. They were words Burks would never forget.
"Get your six years in," Rice told Burks, "and then get the hell out of
From Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston
Published by Routledge
© 2002 Howard Bryant
Return to the main page.