The New York Yankees have a thing for catchers from St. Louis. Of course, even the most casual of baseball fans know the name Yogi Berra, the legend that won 10 World Series Titles and three AL MVP awards. After Yogi however came Elston Gene Howard, the first African-American player to don the pinstripes. Although Jackie Robinson was the first African-American player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Howard’s appearance on the Yankees roster signified a change of pace for the normal cookie-cutter appearance that the Yankees sported.
Before making it to the MLB, Howard played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the American Negro League. There, he was roommates with future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. In 1950, after two seasons with the Monarchs, Howard finally received the call to play for the Yankees, starting during the 1955 season. At first, Howard had to play behind Berra, who was in his last MVP season. Howard got his reps in playing backup catcher to Berra and outfield to Mickey Mantle and Roger Marris. In 1961, Howard’s career-high batting average of .348 was overshadowed by his teammates Roger Marris and Mickey Mantle, who were racing to beat the single-season home run record.
Howard finally won recognition in 1963, becoming the first African-American player to win the American League MVP. Howard would play through 1968, before going on to be a coach for the Yankees. He was the first base coach from 1969-1979, and was known as a peacemaker between Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson. Howard is also credited with inventing the donut, which baseball players use when they are warming up before an at bat.
The great Elston Howard was born on this day in 1929. pic.twitter.com/qM65hUC7MU
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) February 23, 2020
There is no doubting the important legacy that Howard left on the game of baseball, which can be seen through his retired number at Yankee Stadium, and the parks located directly outside of Yankee Stadium that are named after him. Yet, Howard does not have a plaque hanging in his honor at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Putting Howard in the Hall of Fame is way overdue. While statistically, he might not be exactly on-par with some of his teammates, it is important to remember that he was often relegated to the bench because of those teammates. Historically speaking, there are not many players that left an impact on the game the way that Howard did. He was a soft-spoken man that opened the gates for African-American Yankee players that would follow, such as Jackson and Dave Winfield. His 12 All-Star appearances and MVP award provide enough accolades to make a case statistically for Howard to be in, but his legacy of leaving an impact on the game are what truly make Elston Gene Howard a Hall of Famer.