Lenny Green was a centerfielder who played from 1957-1968 for five teams. Green played for the Baltimore Orioles (1957-59, 1964), Washington Senators (1959-60)/Minnesota Twins (1961-64), Los Angeles Angels (1964), Boston Red Sox (1965-66) and Detroit Tigers (1967-68).
Green was born on January 6, 1933 in Detroit, Mich. He attended Pershing High School there and was signed by the Baltimore Orioles prior to the 1955 season. He struggled early and, according to a 1957 newspaper article, was almost released. Orioles GM Paul Richards happened to be at a San Antonio Missions game in 1955 and watched Green make a couple of sensational catches in center and get a couple of base hits. Though he barely hit over .200 with the Missions, Richards made sure Green stayed in the organization.
Within just a couple of seasons, Richards’ faith in Green paid off, and the outfielder rose up the ranks to become one of the Orioles’ top prospects. He hit .318 for Columbus in 1956 with 13 homers and was a .300 hitter with Vancouver when Baltimore brought him to the majors in 1957. Green struggled in the majors with Baltimore, batting .182 in ’57 and .231 in 1958. He got off to a better start in 1959, with a .292 average in 27 games (almost exclusively as a defensive replacement) before being traded to the Senators on May 26th.
The Senators gave him an opportunity to start, and starting in 1960, Green became a productive addition to the lineup. Along with the occasional long ball, he was a patient hitter who drew walks and rarely struck out. He also played above-average defense in all three outfield spots, though center field was where he was most frequently used. He hit .294 and stole 21 bases in 1961. When the team relocated to Minnesota and became the Twins, Green stayed hot. He hit .285 in 1961 and had a 24-game hitting streak through most of the month of May. Green had a career-high 14 home runs in 1962 with 63 RBIs. Though his average dipped to .271, Green walked 88 times and struck out 36 times in 724 plate appearances.
Green got off to a slow start in 1964, going hitless in his first 15 at-bats. He was traded to the Angels as part of a three-team deal that included Cleveland. He hit .250 for the Angels and was re-acquired by Baltimore late in the season. With Baltimore, Lenny hit .190 with just one run batted in during 21 at-bats and went hitless as a pinch-hitter.
Green was a non-roster invitee to spring training with the Boston Red Sox in 1965, the property of Baltimore’s Rochester ballclub but with Boston on a “look-see” basis. He excelled, leading the Red Sox in spring training with a .385 mark. On March 30th the Red Sox announced his purchase from Rochester.
Green kicked off the year for the Red Sox with two home runs on Opening Day in Washington. It was the fourth time Green had hit a home run on an opening day. In 1961 and 1962, he hit homers in the home opener for the Twins, and in 1963 he hit one in the season opener.
Green was the primary center fielder for 1965, between Carl Yastrzemski in left field and Tony Conigliaro in right. Green drove in just 24 runs, though two of those came on another day he hit two home runs in Chicago.
That there were racial undertones in Boston is undeniable. There were strong suspicions that there was an unspoken racial quota in place. When the Red Sox acquired two black players, pitcher John Wyatt and outfielder José Tartabull, in June, 1966, Wilson told his black roommate, Lenny Green, that there were now too many black players on the ball club. Although the remark was made half in jest…to no one’s surprise, the phone rang the next morning. Wilson and Joe Christopher had been shipped to Detroit for Don Demeter and a player to be named later. A week later, Julio Navarro was named as that player.
Now Green became a big help to one of the other black players, rookie George Scott. The two become roommates after Wilson left. Lenny was good for the Red Sox. He was one of them guys who knew where he was in baseball, and knew what he could do in baseball. And he’d just stretch out and help as many guys as he possibly could. And it wasn’t only the black guys.
With Yaz fixed in left and Conigliaro in right, Green shared playing time with Demeter, Tartabull, and a number of other outfielders. Limited to 133 at-bats, he hit .241, and with center-fielder heir apparent Reggie Smith waiting in the wings, there wasn’t room for Lenny Green under incoming manager Dick Williams. To no one’s surprise, he was released by the Red Sox in October.
Rather than retire, Green signed a minor-league deal with his hometown Detroit Tigers and went to play for the AAA Toledo Mud Hens. Green excelled in AAA and was brought back to the majors in August 1967. Green had one last solid season, with a .278 average in 58 games. He returned to the Tigers in 1968 but appeared in just 6 games, with a hit in 4 at-bats. He was released by the Tigers in early July to conclude his MLB career.
Over 12 seasons, Green had a .267 BA, with 788 hits. He hit 47 home runs, drove in 253 runs and scored 461 times. He also stole 78 bases and walked 368 times against 260 strikeouts.
Green, who was working as a security department supervisor for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit at the time, also talked about some of the racial discrimination he experienced in baseball in Spring Training in Florida. He said that the Twins, like most major-league clubs, pretended that the problem didn’t exist unless they were confronted by the racism.
He died on January 6, 2019 in Detroit, which was on his 86th birthday.