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ROAD NOT TAKEN For the Red Sox to play Sunday baseball in the mid-1940s, they had to get the Boston city council to annually grant a blue-law exemption by unanimous vote. Just before the 1945 season a crusading councilman named Izzy Muchnick told Sox general manager Eddie Collins that he would withhold his vote unless the club held a tryout for black players. On April 16 the Red Sox did--for Negro league standouts Sam Jethroe, Marvin Williams and Robinson. By all accounts each hit and fielded impressively that day at Fenway Park, but in the midst of the tryout, someone yelled from the stands, "Get those niggers off the field!" And though the players were told that the club would get back to them, none heard from the Red Sox again.
ROAD TAKEN Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers six months later and made his historic major league debut in 1947. Though based in the cradle of abolitionism, the Red Sox didn't dress a black player until 1959, making them the last big league club to integrate and establishing a reputation that so haunted the franchise that, when free agency gave players the unprecedented choice over where they could go, black stars almost uniformly refused to sign with Boston. Several even had it written into their contracts that they couldn't be traded there.
NOW IT CAN BE TOLD Decades later Joe Cronin, the team's player-manager at the time of the Robinson tryout, told The Boston Globe, "The general manager did the hiring and there was an unwritten rule at that time against hiring black players.... We just accepted things the way they were.... We all thought, because of the times, it was good to have separate leagues."
LOST IN THE MIST Five years later the Red Sox passed up an opportunity to sign a young outfielder for the Birmingham Black Barons named Willie Mays. Bigotry thus kept Boston from fielding a team on which Robinson and Mays played alongside Ted Williams.
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CHARLIE (MAD DOG)
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