June 3, 2019

Book Review: "Waiting For Pumpsie", By Barry Wittenstein (Illustrated By London Ladd)

Waiting For Pumpsie
By Barry Wittenstein
Illustrated by London Ladd
(Charlesbridge Publishing, 2017)

Bernard is a young baseball fan living in Roxbury, a suburb of Boston. Bernard is "crazy, crazy, crazy about the Red Sox" and he longs for the day when someone with dark skin like his is wearing a crisp, white uniform at Fenway Park ("the most beautiful place in the world").

As the 1959 season begins, Jackie Robinson has been retired from baseball for two years and the Red Sox still do not have a black player on their roster.

(In looking online for information about Green, I learned – to my astonishment – that the Boston Bruins integrated before the Red Sox. Willie O'Ree became the NHL's first black player in January 1958. However, he was the only black player until 1974.)

Every year, Bernard's father takes the family to a game at Fenway. Author Barry Wittenstein offers subtle hints of racism at the ballpark. Sitting in the bleachers for a Red Sox-Yankees game, Bernard and his sister cheer when New York's Elston Howard (the only black player on either team) gets a hit. Other fans get angry and a policeman tells the children they need to "learn how to behave". For Bernard, the confrontation is a small clue why there are not a lot of black faces at Fenway.

The Red Sox have a promising black infielder in the minor leagues. Elijah "Pumpsie" Green impressed a lot of people in spring training, but to the surprise of many fans, he did not make the season-opening roster. It is not until July that the Red Sox, at the bottom of the American League standings, finally call him up.

Bernard and his parents and younger sister listen to the game on the radio. The Red Sox are in Chicago on July 21, when Pumpsie comes into the game as a pinch-runner in the 8th inning and then takes over at shortstop.

Pumpsie has played in nine games by the time the Red Sox return from their road trip. The family gets tickets to his first game at Fenway Park. It's a Tuesday doubleheader against the Kansas City Athletics and in the first inning of the first game ...
"Leading off for the Red Sox - number twelve, Pumpsie Green!" The announcer's voice echoes through Fenway. We're stomping our feet so much, the stadium starts to shake. ...

The pitcher winds up. Pumpsie pulls his bat back. The ball shoots out of the pitcher's hand like a rocket. Pumpsie swings.

WHACK! The ball climbs higher and higher. I think it's going to make it over that mean Green Monster.

No! It clanks off the top of the wall and bounces back onto the field. Pumpsie rounds first base and runs like his own uniform can't keep up. The outfielder heaves the ball back in.

Pumpsie slides. Safe at third!
Wittenstein is accurate in his portrayal of Pumpsie's timeline and the games in 1959 (though the left field wall was not yet known as the Green Monster in the 1950s). Bernard and his family glow with personality, and the baseball scenes are spot-on. Bernard is innocent yet aware, and boundless hope will win readers' hearts. London Ladd's illustrations powerfully and beautifully complement the simplicity of Wittenstein's narrative.

Wittenstein has written two other books: Sonny's Bridge, about jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World, about Earle Dickson, the inventor of the band-aid.

The age range for Waiting for Pumpsie is 6-9 years old. I received a complimentary copy of the book from Charlesbridge Publishing.

1 comment:

FenFan said...

Not only were the Bruins the first NHL team to have an African American player on its roster, but the Celtics was one of the first teams in the NBA to likewise to star an African American player. Boston selected Chuck Cooper in the second round of the 1950 NBA draft, just ahead of Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton; Cooper later made his debut on 01 November of that same year, one day after Earl Lloyd debuted for the Washington Capitals and three days before Clifton.

O'Ree is well-known to Bruins fans, and he was recognized for his achievement 50 years and 60 years after his debut by the team, but he was actually NOT the first minority player in the NHL. According to Wikipedia, Larry Kwong first broke the NHL's colour barrier in 1948; born in Vernon, British Columbia, Kwong was of Chinese ancestry.