Elston Howard broke the color lines of the New York Yankees in 1955, some deeming him the Jackie Robinson of the pinstripes. Howard’s stellar MLB career had many highs, and perhaps the biggest was him becoming the American League’s first Black MVP player on this day in 1963.
Howard was born February 23, 1929 in St. Louis, Missouri. A star athlete in high school, Howard turned down college offers to play for the Negro Leagues in 1948 for the Kansas City Monarchs. While there, he was a roommate of baseball legend Ernie Banks. The Yankees signed him in 1950. After some time in the minors, he was called up to the main team as the catcher and left fielder had a great feel for the game.
Though he won several championships with the Yankees, Howard’s MVP win came the year the team lost the World Series in a sweep to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Howard said barely had time to celebrate his MVP win as he’d just moved into a new home with his wife and children that had a leaky roof.
Howard ended his career with the Boston Red Sox, a rival of the Yankees, in 1968, but rejoined his former team as a coach. According to records, he was the first Black coach in the American League. Diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Howard was forced to leave the field and work in the Yankees office but his health deteriorated swiftly. He died at the age of 51 in 1980.
The team honored him the following season and in 1984, his number, 32, was retired. Howard also has a plaque on display at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. Howard, who has not been inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame despite strong numbers, was also a two-time Golden Gloves winner among other notable achievements.
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