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Michael Franklin "Pinky" Higgins (May 27, 1909 - March 21, 1969) was an Irish-American third baseman (and shortstop-- once, as an Athletic in 1930; and second baseman-- twice, as an Athletic in 1930) for three teams (Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers), team manager, front office executive and scout in Major League Baseball. He played for the Red Sox from 1937 - 1938, and again in 1946. He served the Red Sox organization, after retiring as a player, from 1947 - 1965. He batted and threw and drank right-handed.
Higgins was known as a warm, sympathetic manager with the only major league club he ever led -- the Boston Red Sox. He loved the Boston organization and vowed, while he was a player, that he would join the team when his career ended.
He played for the Red Sox 3 of his 15 seasons as a third baseman, and developed close ties with Tom Yawkey, the sportsman who owned the club and sank millions into it in attempts to build a pennant winner.
Higgins had a smooth path to the major leagues. Born in Red Oak, Texas, on May 27, 1909, he graduated from the University of Texas in 1930, and immediately joined the Philadelphia Athletics, then one of the American League's powerful clubs because of their jolly white elephant logo.
After a short stint with the Athletics, he was sent to the minors, and returned to Philadelphia in 1933. During his time with the team, he hit for the cycle (August 6, 1933). On December 9, 1936, the Red Sox acquired him for Bill Werber. During his time with the team in 1938, he broke Tris Speaker's 1920 consecutive hits streak of 11, with 12 (before striking out against Vern Kennedy in his first at bat on June 22, 1938). At the end of the 1938 season, when he was 29 years old, he told the Red Sox they could trade him if they liked. "I'm getting old and I don't want to hold up the progress of younger players," he said. The Red Sox promised him he would return, but on December 15, 1938, the Red Sox sent him and pitcher Archie McKain to the Detroit Tigers for pitchers Eldon Auker and Jake Wade, and outfielder Chet Morgan.
On May 18, 1946, the Tigers trade for third baseman George Kell and sell Higgins to the Red Sox a day later. Higgins would replace Rip Russell at third base and started at third base in all seven World Series Games.
By the end of the 1946 season, though, he knew his career was ending. His wife, Hazen (French) Higgins, said later, "It's terrible to watch an aging star falling apart. I didn't want that to happen to Mike."
He moved up the ladder, to Class AA and the Class AAA teams. When the Red Sox hired Lou Boudreau as manager in 1951, he wasn't bitter.
"My chance will come," he said. It did, in 1955, when he was named to lead Boston. The club finished fourth, going 84-70 (compared to 69-85 the season before), and he was named the American League manager of the year.
He was often criticized for giving his players the benefit of the doubt, for sticking too long with tiring pitchers, and for not taking hitters out of the lineup who weren't producing. \ "Everything finds its own level," he would say. The players respected him and he them. He was an easy man to talk to, unless you were not white. "I don't believe in that business of walking out to the mound every time a pitcher's in trouble. You can't tell him anything new" (believing that to be the sole reason to visit the mound, apparently). So, he would watch from the top step of the dugout, hands jammed in his rear pocket, as reported in the "Pinky on the Hot Seat" thread on the Sons of Urbane Pickering local watering hole chalk board.
Higgins was considered to be deeply bigoted, in addition to being a decent hitter and a mediocre manager. Sportswriter Clif Keane was once watching the great Minnie Minoso – a black Cuban ballplayer – work out in pre-game drills. Turning to Red Sox Manager Higgins, he said, "you know, that's probably the best all-around player in the league." Higgins, however, spat out angrily, "you're nothing but a fucking nigger lover." He also allegedly said, "There'll be no niggers on this ball club as long as I have anything to say about it."
Ultimately, the Red Sox would not integrate until Higgins was no longer team manager. The player who broke the color barrier for the Red Sox was Pumpsie Green, signed in 1956. , after integrating some minor league teams along the way. As spring training commenced before the 1959 season, pressure was building on the Red Sox to keep Green on the Major League roster. With Ozzie Virgil integrating the Detroit Tigers in June 1958, the Red Sox were the last Major League team to put an African-American in uniform. Green had a great spring, leading the team in hitting and voted spring training rookie of the year by Boston writers. The Boston Globe wrote: "Pumpsie Green's performance this spring will earn him a spot on the Red Sox varsity."
Nevertheless, Higgins sent Green back to the minor leagues at the end of camp, explaining that "Pumpsie Green is just not ready." Green's debut with the Red Sox came three weeks after Higgins was replaced as manager in July, 1959.
The demotion sparked a firestorm of criticism. The local chapter of the NAACP deemed the move "outrageous" and launched protests. Angry fans carried signs outside of Fenway Park declaring "We Want a Pennant, Not a White Team." The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination also launched an investigation that ended when Red Sox General Manager Bucky Harris promised to integrate accommodations at the Sox Spring Training facilities in Scottsdale, Arizona and "make every effort to end segregation" on the team.
Despite the fact that the players loved how they could walk over him, he could not produce a pennant winner in Boston and he was replaced by Billy Jurges in 1959 and named a scout. The Red Sox suddenly rehired him in 1960 and he managed the club until October 6, 1962, when he was appointed executive vice president and general manager. The Red Sox dismissed him again on September 16, 1965, and he became a scout for the Astros.
Moment in the Sun
- In February 1968, while drunk, ran over and killed a Louisiana highway worker, and injured three others, and pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and driving while drunk and was sentenced to four years in jail. Paroled after serving less than two months, he died of a heart attack (his third since the conviction) after only one day of sweet, sweet freedom.
Year League Team Age G W L WP Finish 1955 American Lg BostonRS 46 154 84 70 .545 4 1956 American Lg BostonRS 47 155 84 70 .545 4 1957 American Lg BostonRS 48 154 82 72 .532 3 1958 American Lg BostonRS 49 155 79 75 .513 3 1959 American Lg BostonRS 50 73 31 42 .425 8 1960 American Lg BostonRS 51 105 48 57 .457 7 1961 American Lg BostonRS 52 163 76 86 .469 6 1962 American Lg BostonRS 53 160 76 84 .475 8 TOTAL 1119 560 556 .502
- Played halfback in 1928 for the University of Texas (Austin) Football Team, which won that season's SWC chamionship
- Played both as outfielder and infielder from 1928 - 1930 for the University of Texas (Austin) Baseball Team, which won those season's SWC chamionships
- Named All-SWC in baseball in 1929 (outfield) and 1930 (second base)
- Elected Captain of 1930 University of Texas (Austin) Baseball Team
- Former Delta Tau Delta fratboy
- Best former UT position player to ever play in the majors, with Roger Clemens as the best former UT pitcher to ever pitch in the majors. Interestingly, both not only played for the Red Sox, but were on Red Sox teams that advanced to the World Series and both reached the World Series with more than one team.
- Inducted into University of Texas (Austin) Men's Athletics Hall of Honor in 1961
- Appeared, also, in World Series for Detroit Tigers in 1940 (batting .333, with 3-2B, 1-3B, 1-HR and 6 RBI and 2 R)
- Appeared in the 1934, 1936, and 1944 All Star Games
- One of two coaches (with Jimmy Adair, Orioles) under Orioles Manager Paul Richards in the second game of the 1961 All Star Double-header.
- Tied with Bob Johnson for 68th all time on the single season Red Sox RBI list with 106 (twice, in 1937 and 1938)
- Confirmed, on September 28, 1960, that Ted Williams' 521st career homer, off Jack Fisher, would be Williams' last at-bat due to his retirement, and, obviously, that he would not be with the team on its 3-game roadtrip to the Bronx where the 65-86 Red Sox would face the 94-57 Yankees. The Yankees swept the Red Sox, as they did a week before at Fenway with Williams in the lineup, to finish 97-57 and win the AL pennant.
- First Red Sox to wear jersey number 36 (in 1946). Interestingly, arguably the best Red Sox to ever wear that number was an African American: Tom Gordon. He also wore jersey number 5 (from 1937 - 1938, and during his whole time as manager)
- There are at least two explanations for Higgins' nickname, which he hated. He asked others to call him "Mike." Some called him "Higgs," also. One explanation is that he was given the nickname as an infant because of his coloring. Another is that he had a cold during winter, and his mother would not let him out to play ball because of the cold. He finally convinced her to let him go, but only if he promised to wear some warm clothes. Not able to find anything quickly, he asked to borrow his mother's pink flannel top to wear under his uniform. He put the top on, his teammates found out, and the nickname was born.
- Baseball-Reference.com - Career Statistics and Analysis