Many saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in 1962 as an important event in 1960s America. People witnessed Martin Luther King Jr. rise to prominence while fighting for equality. Although Major League Baseball destroyed the color barrier in 1947, racism in baseball still existed in 1962, which came as a shock to Red Sox prospect Jim Gosger.
1962 marked Red Sox prospect Jim Gosger’s first year in professional baseball. Playing for the Class B Winston-Salem Red Sox in the Carolina League, Gosger hadn’t experienced the level of racism seen in the south before. “My parents taught me that we were all the same.” So when Gosger first started playing baseball in the south, he couldn’t understand why bathrooms were segregated. “I told our manager [Eddie] Popowski that it was wrong. He said ‘I agree, Jim, but there’s not much we can do about it.'” Why segregate the bathrooms, Jim though. “I never had an issue with color in my life. As a kid I had a black friend who picked me up in the morning so we could go to practice together. I didn’t have an issue with race.” When hecklers started hurling racial epithets at a teammate though, Gosger decided to do something about it.
It started during a game against the Wilson Tobs in Wilson, North Carolina. Infielder Tommy Williams, the only black player on the team, sat on the bench. “Tommy was a nice guy who never gave anyone a hard time,” Gosger recalled. “But these people in the stands called him the n-word and yelled that he shouldn’t be there.” Gosger recalls how Williams quietly sat in the dugout and never said a word. “I couldn’t believe it. So finally another guy and I went into the stands. We confronted the guys yelling at Williams. They got thrown out of the park. The cops then dealt with it but I couldn’t believe what they’d said.”
For Prospect Jim Gosger, All Players Were Equal
Gosger played one year in Winston-Salem batting .283 with 19 home runs and 83 RBIs. He joined the Red Sox the following year in Boston. But Gosger never forgot that moment. For him, it marked an awakening to the reality of race relations in America. “When we’d stop on the road at a restaurant Tommy wouldn’t go in. So we’d get him a sandwich. We were teammates. We took care of him.”
The Civil Rights Movement has made tremendous strides since 1962. Recent events, however, have torn wide the wounds of intolerance in Baton Rogue, Louisiana and Minneapolis, Minnesota. But for Red Sox prospect Jim Gosger, that moment in 1962 is something he will never forget. While he credits people like President John F. Kennedy for combating racism, he knows there’s still work to be done. “I’m very discouraged by what’s going on today. I know a lot of others are too. Something has to be done.”