Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today we look back on the career of former Yankees star Elston Howard.Eight years after Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier in
Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today we look back on the career of former Yankees star Elston Howard.
Eight years after Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier in 1947, Howard did so for the Yankees, donning pinstripes as the club's first black player on April 13, 1955. Howard, whose rights were purchased in 1950 from the Negro Leagues' Kansas City Monarchs, didn't leave the bench that game, but he saw his first Major League action the following day, taking the field in the sixth inning at Fenway Park.
Howard made his first start on April 28, batting 3-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored, and quickly developed into a major contributor on a perennial contender as a productive bat and an excellent defender. Howard helped the Yankees reach the World Series in his rookie season and played in all seven games as New York lost to the Dodgers.
The Yankees won nine pennants and four World Series during Howard's first 10 big league seasons. To date, only two players have played in more Fall Classic contests than Howard (54) -- teammates Mickey Mantle (65) and Yogi Berra (75). Howard contributed to New York's 1956, '58, '61 and '62 titles. He also competed for the Red Sox in their '67 World Series loss to the Cardinals.
During Howard's Yankees tenure, he made nine consecutive All-Star appearances from 1957-65. He won two Gold Glove Awards in that span and was named American League Most Valuable Player in '63, becoming the first black player to win in the AL. That season, Howard hit .287/.342/.528 with a career-best 28 homers and 85 RBIs.
Howard most frequently played in the outfield and at first base during his first five seasons, but took over from Berra as New York's primary backstop beginning in 1960 and saw the majority of his time at catcher for the remainder of his career.
Howard's 14-year playing career wound down with a trade to the Red Sox in August 1967. He was released by Boston after the '68 season and finished with a .274 average, 1,471 hits, 167 home runs and 762 RBIs. Howard remained a trailblazer in retirement, returning to the Yankees organization as the AL's first black coach.
He served in the position from 1969-79 up until one year before his death in 1980 at age 51. He won two more World Series rings as a coach in '77 and '78. His No. 32 was retired by the Yankees in 1984, and he's immortalized with a plaque at Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.