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The Unsung Deeds of Pumpsie And Wenzel By WILLIAM W. SMITH

Friday December 24, 2004

I want to use the mountain top of the Berkeley Daily Planet to shout two things that not enough people will otherwise hear or read: Richard Alan Wenzel helped save the world and Pumpsie Green single-handedly lifted the curse of the Bambino!  

Last thing first. On July 21, 1959, Elijah “Pumpsie” Green of Richmond, Calif., was sent in as a pinch-runner for the Boston Red Sox, thus making the Red Sox the last Major League baseball team to drag itself in line with the rest of baseball and integrate twelve years after integration began with Jackie Robinson. 

On the morning of Oct. 21, the day of game one of the 2004 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, I interviewed Mr. Green for UC Berkeley radio station KALX 90.7 FM. This was prior to a panel discussion on human relations in the city of El Cerrito, where Mr. Green now lives. 

During the interview, it became apparent that Mr. Green was quite fond of his experience, leaving his hometown in California to work in a notoriously uncomfortable city for African Americans, Boston. As an African American, I had to know: How did Pumpsie adjust to the change? His answer surprised me: “I experienced just as much racism in California, right here in El Cerrito, as I did in Boston if not more so! Just before I left to go play for the Red Sox I was even thrown out of the Elks Club in El Cerrito because of the color of my skin.” 

Mr. Green would go on to say that the Red Sox fans treated him like they would any white ball player; a hero when he did well, a bum when he screwed up. At this point something dawned on me: If anyone had just the right karma to proclaim a lifting of the “Curse of the Bambino,” it would be this man. So during the interview for the radio, I humbly asked Elijah “Pumpsie” Green to at long last after 86 years, to absolve the Boston Red Sox of this hex that has existed since the Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1918. 

He proceeded to do just that. Now you know why the Red Sox finally won a World Series, and in a sudden, swift, mysterious fashion. Admittedly, since UC Berkeley’s KALX is only a 500 watt station, chances are you missed this historic healing. Pumpsie is nevertheless unassumingly content with the results of his little gesture. Allow me to herald one more unsung soul from the same generation.  

April 1st, 2005 will be the 60th anniversary of a poorly acknowledged episode in military history the U.S. invasion of Okinawa, a very bloody turning point in World War II. Will there be commemorations on the scale of the Normandy memorial of this past year? I don’t know. At any rate, I don’t think there will be much notice taken around here. I like to consider myself anti-war like most folks here in the People’s Republic. 

Yet, my father-in-law, WWII marine Dick Wenzel is a good man, a humble man, and most of all has been a man of quiet heroism all his life. Well, I will not be quiet about at least this one thing and maybe a couple of others, so, excuse me Berkeley: Thank you, Dad. Thank you for doing what a good man knew was right when it was right; there seems to be so obviously few of you left in this country. Thank you for coming home and raising three daughters with your beautiful wife Betty. Thank you for having enough good will after the spirit-killing trauma of war, after losing one of the daughters to a drunk driver, after losing your partner of over 50 years to Alzheimer’s, to still tell me, your African American son-in-law, that you love me as you would’ve your own son when very few white men of your generation and background would ever say such a thing and neither did my own father, for that matter. I love you too.