The First Black Player on the Yankees
"No one in the Yankee organization made
me conscious of my color." - Elston Howard
Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color line on April 15,
1947. It was not until April 14, 1955 that Elston Howard had his
moment with the Yankees of New York and became the first
African-American to play for the team in the Bronx.
A marker date for Howard was July 19, 1950 when the Yankees purchased
his contract and that of pitcher Frank Barnes from the Kansas City
Monarchs. Both were assigned to Muskegon in the Central League.
Elston Howard was the International League's Most Valuable Player in
1954 and could have been the regular catcher for most major league
teams in 1955 but not the Yankees. Lawrence Peter Berra was in his
"So Howard bided his time," Irvin said. He also had to suffer through
the indignity in spring training of not being able to stay with the
rest of the team at their hotel in segregated St. Petersburg; he had
to be put up by a family in the black section of town. He bore up
under this, too.
"Elston was quiet, efficient, good quick and accurate arm," Monte
Irvin continued. "He paved the way for the first blacks on the
Casey Stengel utilized Howard from 1955-1957 at first base, the
outfield, catcher. An American League All-Star nine straight seasons
(1957-1965),a two time Gold Glove catcher, Howard batted over .300
The 1958 World Series against the Braves was a time that Howard
especially showed off his talents. In the fifth game, with the Yankees
trailing 3 games to one, Howard playing left field robbed the Braves
of a hit, doubling a runner off first base. In Game Six, he collected
two hits, and in the final game drove in the run giving the Yankees
the series. He was named the World Series MVP, the first black to get
In 1961, new manager Ralph Houk moved the aging Yogi Berra to left
field and created the opportunity for Howard to finally be the became
the everyday Yankee catcher. He batted a career high .348 with 21
homers. In 1962, he again hit 21 homers, upping his RBI total to 91.
Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris missed playing time in 1963 with
injuries; Howard, often batted cleanup, taking up the slack as team
leader, hitting .287 with a career high 28 home runs. He won the 1963
American League MVP award.
In 1964, he won his second Gold Glove, and led American League
catchers with a .998 fielding mark, as the Yankees won their fifth
An exceptional defensive catcher, highly regarded as a handler of
pitchers, Howard pioneered the use of a hinged catcher's mitt that led
to the modern one-handed catching techniques.
Traded to Boston in 1967, Howard returned to the Yankees a couple of
years later where he coached for eleven years. When he passed away in
1980, Red Barber said: "The Yankees lost more class than George
Steinbrenner could buy in ten years."
# # #
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
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