Posts Tagged ‘Pumpsie Green’

Pinky

April 20, 2018

Pinky Higgins

When I was a kid I had one of those baseball board games that had a spinner and some cards representing real players. You spun the spinner (it wasn’t as awkward as that combination of words) then consulted the player card to get a result. It was a step up from normal spinner games in that it tried, by use of the card, to get something closer to a real player’s result (Babe Ruth would hit more homers, Ty Cobb would have more singles). All the players were historical and I’d heard of all of them except one: Pinky Higgins. What follows is not simply my normal look at the playing career of Higgins, but some thoughts on other parts of his career.

Michael Frank Higgins was born in Red Oak, Texas in 1909. At the time it was a small East Texas town. Now it’s part of the Dallas suburbs. The “Pinky” nickname came from his childhood and he seems to have hated it. He made the big leagues in 1930 as a third baseman for the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s won the World Series, but Higgins didn’t play in the Series. He was back in the minors in 1931 and 1932, then resurfaced with the A’s in 1933. He stayed there through 1936, then shifted to Boston (the Red Sox, not the Braves) where he remained through 1938. From Boston it was on to Detroit, where he got into the 1940 World Series.  In 1945 he was off to World War II, then came back for one final season in 1946, splitting time between Detroit and Boston. He finished his career in the 1946 World Series. For his career he hit .292 with a slugging percentage of .428, 140 home runs, 1075 RBIs, a 107 OPS+ and 27.5 WAR.  He also managed to hit for the cycle in August 1933. All in all, not a bad career.

After retirement from the game he managed in the Red Sox minor league system, then in 1955 became manager of the BoSox. He remained into 1959, then took over again in 1960, remaining to 1962. During the latter stint as manager he was also in charge of player personnel, making him a de facto general manager. He remained there until 1965, when he was fired. The Astros picked him up as a special scout.

Higgins drank, and he drank a lot. In 1968, while driving drunk in Louisiana he hit a highway worker. The worker died and Higgins was sentenced to five years in prison, one year deferred. He served a few months and was released with heart problems. He died in 1969, less than two days after his release.

But Higgins became, both during his tenure with the Red Sox and after his death, the center of a raging controversy about baseball and race. Although there are a few ex-players and staff who disagreed, almost everyone who knew Higgins agreed he was an extreme racist. Some have gone so far as to blame him for the failure of the Red Sox to integrate prior to 1959.

Now I grew up in Oklahoma and in West Texas. I’ve met my share of East Texas bigots (and to be fair about it, bigots from a lot of other places) and it wouldn’t surprise me that Higgins, growing up when and where he did, had his fair share of racial prejudice. But it seems silly somehow to blame him for the Boston race problem. He never owned the team. Tom Yawkey did. Yawkey never pushed to integrate the Red Sox (and for what it’s worth, Yawkey was from Detroit, a distinctly non-Southern town). Between the time Brooklyn brought up Jackie Robinson in 1947 through the arrival of Pumpsie Green in Boston in 1959, the following men served as General Manager of the BoSox: Eddie Collins (through 1947), Joe Cronin (through 1958). Neither man moved to employ black ball players at the Major League level (Cronin had several black players in the minors, but never promoted any of them). As far as I can tell, neither ever went to the owner with a plea “Mr. Yawkey, we’re losing and we can right the ship if we add a couple of black players.” Maybe they knew Yawkey would tell them “No.” As manager Higgins never pushed for integration either. I’m quite certain that Higgins was no friend to Black Americans, but it’s unfair to attribute the late arrival of a black player to Boston to him. He may have agreed, but he had a lot of others who nodded along with him.

 

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Bucky Harris

November 10, 2015
Bucky Harris

Bucky Harris

1 Stanley Harris was born in 1896 in Port Jervis, New York and grew up in Pittstown, Pennsylvania.

2. He left school early to work in a coal mine.

3. He played both basketball and baseball when not working and came to the attention of Hughie Jennings, Tiger manager and Pittstown native. He was signed to his first contract at age 19.

4. He spent 1916 through 1919 in the minors playing primarily with the International League’s Buffalo Bisons.

5. He was signed by Washington in 1920, became the Senators regular second baseman in 1921.

6. He became player-manager of the Washington Senators in 1924 at age 27. At the time he was the youngest player-manager in American League history. He’s still the second youngest behind Lou Boudreau.

7. His 1924 and 1925 Senators won the American League pennant and the 1924 version won the World Series.

8. In 1929 he was traded to the Tigers where he both played and managed. He last played a game in 1931, but managed Detroit through 1933. He also managed Boston, the Senators (for the second time), and the Phillies between 1934 and 1943.

9. He was fired from Philly in 1943 and spent the next three years as manager and general manager of the Buffalo Bisons. During this period he was one of several witnesses to appear before Judge Landis concerning the Phillies’ owners gambling on baeball. The upshot was the banning of Phils owner William Cox from baseball.

10. He was hired to manage the New York Yankees in 1947 and won the World Series that season. In 1948 he finished third (two games back and with 94 wins) and was fired.

11. Harris managed minor league San Diego in 1949, then completed his managerial career by managing Washington for a third time and Detroit for a second stint.

12. He worked in the Red Sox front office from 1957 through 1960. In 1959 he became general manager and was instrumental in bringing Pumpsie Green to Boston thus integrating the last Major League team. There is some dispute about whether Harris was committed to integration or simply thought the team would be better with Green on the roster.

13. He served as a scout (White Sox) and a special assistant (Senators–now the Rangers) until his retirement in 1971. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975 and died in 1977.

Harris grave from Find a Grave

Harris grave from Find a Grave