Throughout the team’s playing history—the story of the Memphis Red Sox is one of gradual decline in on-field success. Some of the factors contributing to that decline were out of the team’s hands.
For one, many players from the Negro Leagues were drafted or enlisted when the U.S. entered World War II. Even those who stayed had to make sacrifices to support the war effort. Rations on gasoline and tires meant less road trips for ballclubs nationwide. All these factors hit the Negro Leagues particularly hard; many teams were already struggling before war.
In years after the war, the Red Sox and other Negro League teams faced another contributing factor to their eventual end: integration. Progress was finally being made in professional sports, and Black players were making waves on major league rosters.
Jackie Robinson is the most well-known player for breaking the baseball color barrier in 1947, but the Memphis Red Sox had plenty of pioneers that made the same journey and faced the same adversity. The same year Robinson made history, Dan Bankhead, a Memphis Red Sox pitcher, became the first Black man to pitch in a major league baseball game after the team sold his contract to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Marshall “Sheriff” Bridges is another Red Sox pitcher that would go on to play in the majors. Bridges played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and even the New York Yankees, with whom he would pitch in game 4 of the 1962 World Series.
Integration deeply impacted the Negro Leagues. With major league scouts snatching big names from rosters, spectators were no longer going to see the best Black ballplayers in Negro League games—they were looking to the majors. This hit close to home when in 1950, the Chicago White Sox bought the contract of Red Sox first baseman, Bob Boyd, for $12,000.
B.B. Martin, a part owner at the time, authorized the deal, but W.S., his brother and the controlling owner and president of the ballclub, did not sign off on the deal. W.S. Martin went on to sue the White Sox for $35,000 in damages, claiming they enticed Boyd to leave. Eventually, after meeting with his brother, J.B., the lawsuit was settled, but no payment to W.S. Martin was ever documented.
In 1958, W.S. Martin passed away after a yearlong illness. Two years later in 1960, B.B. Martin, now controlling owner, dissolved the team completely. Shortly thereafter, the Negro League didn’t exist, though historians can’t pinpoint the exact date it all came to an end. Thus, the Memphis Red Sox and the rich history of Negro League baseball ceased to be.