Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Long before Fort Myers...the Red Sox were in Sarasota but left Florida for all the wrong reasons

Here is a video from NESN that shows 'Red Sox Spring Training' from 56 years ago in 1955

The Red Sox in those years trained in Sarasota, Florida and then as is the case now many fans went to Florida to escape winter and see the Sox.

However the Red Sox left Sarasota after 1958 and moved training camp to Scottsdale, Arizona. The move made no sense at all as it was much further away from Boston. Only later did the real reason come out.

Scottsdale still embraced racial segregation then as blacks were not allowed inside the city limits after sundown. This delighted Red Sox GM Joe Cronin and especially Sox Manager Mike "Pinky" Higgins who made it known he had no use for Negroes.

This angered Ted Williams who almost quit the team because of the move because he meant he could not fish. Much later he did confide that the segregation issues on the Red Sox bothered him more.

The Red Sox remained in Arizona until 1965 and then moved back to Florida to infamous Winter Haven which also had racial problems. Red Sox pitcher Earl Wilson was a victim that first year back in Florida.
Former Red Sox pitcher Robert Earl Wilson, who endured racism to become the first black American Leaguer to throw a no-hitter, died of a heart attack Saturday in Detroit. He was 70.

... The subtext of the Red Sox scouting report on Mr. Wilson when he was signed was an indication of the bias in the organization at the time and what Mr. Wilson had to overcome to make it to the major leagues. It read in part, ''well-mannered colored boy, not too black, pleasant to talk to, well-educated, very good appearance.''

''It never bothered me what people said in the stands in Boston,'' Mr. Wilson told the Globe in 1980. ''What I heard in the South was so much worse ..."

Despite racial epithets and biased management, Mr. Wilson emerged to become one of the best Sox players on teams that struggled to reach mediocrity. The Red Sox brought up Mr. Wilson to the major leagues on July 29, 1959, just one week after the Sox called up their first African-American ballplayer, outfielder Elijah (Pumpsie) Green. The Red Sox were the last of the original 16 Major League franchises to have an African-American on its roster.

... In 1966, Mr. Wilson was traded to the Detroit Tigers ... Many thought at the time the trade was retribution for outspoken remarks by Mr. Wilson during spring training. That year, the Red Sox had moved their spring training camp from Scottsdale, Ariz., to Winter Haven, Fla. Mr. Wilson was refused entrance to two nightclubs because of his race. He did not let the matter die. He told his plight to sportswriters covering the team, exposing racism and the Red Sox's reaction to it.

The trade to the Tigers was a blessing for Mr. Wilson. During his years with the Red Sox, they never had a winning record. Mr. Wilson found a home in Detroit, which had a larger population of middle-class blacks.

Wilson was traded for 'a bag of balls' in June of 1966 and it would come back to haunt the Red Sox the following season. Wilson won 22 games for the Tigers and had he remained with the Red Sox, the 1967 team may well have beaten St. Louis in the World Series.

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