Shut-Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston (review)
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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 143-145



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Howard Bryant. Shut-Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston. New York: Routledge, 2002. 278 pp. Cloth, $27.50.

InBaseball's Great Experiment Jules Tygiel argues that the story of baseball integration begins rather than ends with Jackie Robinson. Similarly, Howard Bryant commences his story of race and the Boston Red Sox with Pumpsie Green's Major League debut in 1959. Bryant, a Boston native and journalist who has covered the Oakland A's and the New York Yankees, argues that it was no accident that the Red Sox were the last Major League team to include a black player and that this legacy of racism has continued to plague the team through the late twentieth century.

Seeking to place his topic within historical and cultural context, Bryant observes [End Page 143] that the relatively small number of blacks in Boston have never been treated with the dignity that the city's identification with the abolitionist movement might assume. In addition, divisions within the African American community along economic lines prevented a more assertive challenge to the white Boston establishment until more recent years.

Bryant contends that the Red Sox, under the ownership of Tom Yawkey, mirrored the racial prejudices of many white Bostonians. The Red Sox owner kept some distance from the controversies surrounding baseball and race, leaving his protégés Joe Cronin and Eddie Collins to carry out his discriminatory policies. Bowing to the political pressures of city councilman Izzy Muchnick, the Red Sox did offer a 1945 tryout for three black players, including Jackie Robinson, but the team had no intention of taking the lead on baseball integration. Team ownership also refused to act on scouting reports lauding the potential of such young African American athletes as Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

Bryant argues that the Red Sox management only reluctantly placed Green on the roster in 1959, while manager Mike "Pinky" Higgins made his racist beliefs quite apparent. Green preferred to take a nonconfrontational approach, but his more athletically gifted roommate, pitcher Earl Wilson, who joined the team a week after Green, was more strident in his approach to management. Wilson's complaints regarding 1966 spring training segregationist practices in Florida convinced the team to trade the pitcher to Detroit. In 1967 the Red Sox added an outstanding black athlete in outfielder Reggie Smith. The talented player, however, constantly challenged the racial climate permeating Boston and was never happy during his tenure with the team.

In his effort to maintain that the Red Sox were not a Boston aberration with racial policies, Bryant devotes considerable space to the travails of Bill Russell playing with the Celtics and Larry Whiteside as the Boston Globe's only African American sportswriter. Bryant notes that Whiteside failed to achieve national stature, unlike his white counterparts Peter Gammons and Will McDonough, who failed to question the nature of racism in Boston sport and culture.

Of course, what drew the nation's attention to the role played by race in Boston was the city's violent reaction to school busing in 1975. The Red Sox team of that era under the leadership of general manager Dick O'Connell, however, took the city's mind off its struggles with a successful ball club that included such black players as Cecil Cooper, Luis Tiant, and Jim Rice. Nevertheless, the promise of a new Red Sox racial policy was aborted when Jean Yawkey, whose husband died in 1976, fired O'Connell. By 1979 Rice was the only black player on the Red Sox roster, and he was portrayed by the Boston media as aloof and arrogant. In 1980 the Red Sox fired former player and current [End Page 144] coach Tommy Harper for complaining about club segregationist policies. Throughout the 1980s the Red Sox struggled to sign black and Latino free agents. Bryant writes: "There was a feeling among blacks in the game that the Red Sox were reluctant—in a...