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Jackie Robinson and the Red Sox

The following is an excerpt from Jackie Robinson by Glenn Stout and Matt Christopher. It is a story about a baseball tryout that was held at Fenway Park on April 16, 1945. There had always been men and women of courage and conviction who fought to break down the barriers that prevented African Americans from taking their rightful place in society. With World War II nearly over, some of these activists were beginning to question how the United States could ask a man to risk his life for his country, as thousands of African Americans did, and then deny him the rights that most white Americans took for granted. Pressure increased to end what were known as Jim Crow practices in the workplace, regulations that prevented African Americans from getting certain jobs. Some progressive members of Congress were pushing for fair employment legislation that would make it illegal to deny anyone a job due to race. The African American media had been arguing for these changes for years. Now, some white politicians, activists, and journalists joined their fight. Sportswriters, too, began to speak out against segregation. Dave Egan of the Boston Record and Jimmy Cannon of the New York Mirror wrote that African Americans deserved the right to play in the major leagues. In Boston, a city councilman named Isadore Muchnick agreed. Each year the National League Boston Braves and the American League Red Sox needed permission from the Boston city council to play baseball on Sunday. Normally this was granted without debate. But Muchnick told both teams he would block the agreement unless they agreed to hold a tryout for African American players. Both teams resisted. The Red Sox even told Muchnick that African Americans were welcome to try out for the Red Sox, but none had ever asked to try out. Then sports editor Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier, an influential African American newspaper, told Muchnick that he could provide three players [for a tryout at Fenway Park]. Outfielder Sam Jethroe had led the Negro American League in hitting in 1944 with a .353 average. Second baseman Marvin Williams had hit . 338 in the Negro National League. Jackie Robinson was the third player. Even though Robinson had played only a handful of games in the Negro League, he was well known throughout the nation. He had not only the physical skills to succeed, Smith believed, but also the social skills to survive as the first African American player in professional baseball. In mid-April the three players traveled with Smith to Boston. On April 16, Robinson, Jethroe, and Williams worked out for a handful of Red Sox coaches, including manager Joe Cronin. They all performed well, but no one more so than Jackie Robinson. He later recalled that he hit good to all fields. Muchnick saw the tryout, too. You never saw anyone hit the [ball] the way Robinson did that day, he later reported. But after an hour or so, a voice rang out over the field at Fenway Park: Get those niggers off the field! No one has ever been able to identify the speaker, long

rumored to have been either Boston Red Sox owner Thomas Yawkey or general manager Eddie Collins. Some have even questions whether the incident took place. Jackie Robinson himself never mentioned it and rarely talked about the tryout later. Robinson said he never got the impression that the ball club intended to sign any of them to a contract.