I think we over use terms like hero, courage, tragedy, etc. However, the term pioneer is not used enough. This brings us to this week’s player Elston Howard. As we memorialize Jackie Robinson this time of the year let us not forget the first African-American to play with the Yankees Elston Howard. Elston Gene Howard was born in St. Louis on February 23, 1929. He was a star at Vashon High School a school known for its’ out standing sports programs. In 1948 he was offered scholarships to several Big 10 schools. Let me repeat this, in 1948 at the age of 19 he could have attended a number of Big 10 schools which given the racism at the time was amazing and a testament to who he was as a player and a person. Instead he opted to play in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs as an outfielder for three years. His roommate was Ernie Banks! He signed with the Yankees on July 19, 1950. On April 14, 1955, he became the first African -American to play for the Yankees. He would spend 12 seasons (catcher, 1st base, out fielder) with the Yanks during which he was a 12 time All-Star, 4 times World Champ, 2 times Gold Glove winner, 1963 AL MVP, and his number was retired by the Yanks. His stats with the Yanks were as follows 1492 games played, 5488 plate appearances, 588 runs, 1405 hits, 161 home runs, 733 RBIs, 8 stolen bases, 342 walks, 717 Ks, .279 batting average, and a .760 OPS. He would return to the Yanks as a first base coach in 1969 becoming the first African-American coach in the American League. He would remain a coach with the Yanks for 10 years and would win two more World Series.
On August 3, 1967 he was traded to the Red Sox for a player to be named later. With the Sox for little more than a year he played in 13 games, had 358 plate appearances, 31 runs, 66 hits, 6 home runs, 29 RBIs, 1 stolen base, 31 walks, 69 Ks, a .207 batting average, and an OPS of .564. He would be release by the Sox on October 29th, 1968.
Due to rapid heart failure Elston Howard passed away on December 14, 1980 at the young age of 50. Perhaps I don’t know the Hall of Fame process but it isn’t working if Elston Gene Howard isn’t in it, and he isn’t.
His Rookie card 1955 Bowman #68.