RIP to Lenny Green, a centerfielder who played from 1957-1968 for five teams. He died on January 6, which was his 86th birthday. 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).
Leonard 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 26.
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. He changed teams again in 1965 when the Red Sox acquired his contract prior to the start of the season. As a part-timer for the Red Sox, he had a couple of fair years, particularly 1965 when he batted .278 with 7 homers. He was released in October 1966.
Rather than retire, Green signed a minor-league deal with his hometown Detroit Tigers and went to play for the AAA Toledo Mud Hens.
“I told my wife I’d try it a couple more years, unless it stopped being fun,” he said in The Evening Sun (Baltimore).
Green excelled in AAA and was brought back to the majors in August 1967 after Al Kaline broke his hand in a dugout fit and Gates Brown ran into a fence and hurt his wrist. 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/.351/.379 slash line, 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.
Though Green didn’t have that much power, he did hit home runs in three straight home openers for the Twins from 1961-63. In an interview with the Star Tribune in 1985, Green likened his batting approach to Rod Carew – hit the ball where it’s pitched.
“I tried to get on more than anything else,” he said. “And every once in a while I hit a home run… I wasn’t that type of player. If I had tried for homers all the time, I would have been out of baseball a lot sooner than I was.”
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.
“We couldn’t stay in the same hotels [as white players] or eat in the same restaurants, but they expected us to play… You never forget something like that.”