Friday, April 26, 2013

Jackie Robinson: The Sham Red Sox Audition in 1945

I have not yet seen the movie 42, but it's on my list. I have seen the trailers (which look spectacular) and read numerous reviews (which are mixed). The film was recently panned by Boston Globe reviewer Ty Burr, who complained that, while there were many effective scenes, the script did not go deep enough in telling Robinson's story. I found it interesting that Robinson's latest biopic would be trashed by the same publication that couldn't even be bothered to cover his first major league tryout back in 1945.

Here's the scoop on what happened...

With mounting pressure from civil rights activists, the Red Sox offered auditions to a handful of black players in the spring of 1945. Three candidates were chosen to participate: Cleveland Buckeyes’ outfielder Sam Jethroe, Philadelphia Stars’ infielder Marvin Williams and Robinson, who had been a multi-sport star at UCLA. The workout was presided over by Manager Joe Cronin and Coach Hugh Duffy with owner Tom Yawkey in attendance. Downplaying its importance, The Boston Globe didn’t even cover the event while The Boston Record negatively reported that “Jethroe and Williams seemed tense and both their hitting and fielding suffered.” Jethroe remembered things quite differently, calling it a “good try-out” and pointing out that more than one ball was hit off the Green Monster.

When it was over, coach Duffy elusively commented that he could not make a decision after only one trial. Yawkey, Cronin and GM Eddie Collins were equally evasive about estimating the players’ talents. None of the three hopefuls were ever contacted for further evaluation. Years later, Boston Globe columnist Thomas Oliphant referred to the proceedings as “one of many sham tryouts for black players...pathetic pseudo-events arranged by lily-white organizations to maintain the fiction that they weren’t really prejudiced.” The Red Sox were the last major league team to be integrated in 1959.

Everyone knows what happened to Robinson. As for the other two Red Sox hopefuls, Williams never made it to the majors. Jethroe ended up with the Boston Braves, winning Rookie of the year honors in 1950. He led the NL in stolen bases for two straight seasons before his hitting tapered off. He finished his career with Toronto of the International League.

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