Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Elston Howard, the right man for the New York Yankees

Elston Howard
Elston Howard
Catcher, Leftfielder and 1st Baseman
13 years with the New York Yankees
9 All-star games with one AS- MVP
BA--.279, OBP--.324, Slg%--.436 with 161 Home Runs

Breaking the color line with just anybody could have had very bad repercussions for both the individual and the team. But, like Robinson’s careful selection for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Yankees needed to choose wisely and deliberately.

“. . . Elston Howard was both an exceptional baseball player and a gentleman,” baseball chronicler Peter Golenbock wrote. “He was quiet, pleasant, noncontroversial, the son of educated parents. Howard seemed the perfect Yankee — even if he was black. He didn’t make headlines. He kept his nose clean and he could hit a fastball a long way.”

 In 1946 Elli started his clime to the greatest team in the world when he was signed and played for the old Tandy League. He made an instant impression on the opposition by throwing out two runners and getting two hits, did they win the game you ask...No!
He soon found himself playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of, if not the most talented teams in the Negro Leagues.

Of course every story has a hitch in it, right?

1950 found Elli playing for the Yankees Class A Clippers, in Michigan. Returning home after the season he found himself drafted into the Army and sent to Japan (As was the case back then) baseball players, played baseball until they were discharged. One must remember, this was a few years after the Defeat of the Japanese People!

In 1953, as the story moves along....
Elli was playing the the Yankees AAA team, the Kansas City Blues along side of Vic Powers. Vic batted .349 but, was considered a loose cannon.

1954...Now comes the good stuff!
Ellie shared a locker room with Yogi, Rizzuto, Mickey and Billy Martin. He was being instructed by Bill Dickey on his catching skills. But sad to say, he didn't go North with the club that spring.

1955...he goes North!
In spring training, Casey Stengel (as the year before) had him working out as a catcher and batting cleanup. Now the pressure was on he and the Yankees, they had good and bad press for having Elli on the team with the "White Boys". Standout players like Phil Rizzuto, Moose Skowron, and Hank Bauer instantly liked him and made it a point to befriend Howard.

Teammate Bob Turley reflected that Howard never showed any anger. Tony Kubek recognized Howard’s “inner toughness and burning desire” but steady, controlled outward demeanor.

Howard’s calm, quiet manner helped him through that period. “I do not understand them,” Howard said, “but I can’t be the one that’s gonna do the breaking down.”

But Howard was more than a tremendously talented black ball player. He was a black man who was a model combination of athletic ability, quiet courage, and self-control.

Infielder Andy Carey assessed Howard’s performance — personally and internally as well as on the field. “He did his job under tremendous pressure. Elston knew what he had to do. He knew the world was watching. He did what Jackie Robinson did, and he did it for the Yankees. He worked hard, he hustled, he did everything he had to.”

The inner strength that sustained Howard through trying times, loneliness during the early days when he roomed alone on road trips, when confronted by some more outspoken bigot, reflected his true character. And it showed through to his teammates.

Author Dom Forker reported, “All of the players I’ve questioned about Elston Howard have been unanimous in the following endorsement. ‘He was one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met.’”

Norm Siebern remembered, “In retrospect, you’d have to say that they couldn’t have done better [than to pick Howard]. He had great morals, personality, and character. He was just an outstanding individual.”

Roommate Al Downing looked up to Howard and regarded him as “the finest human being I ever met.”

Hank Bauer spoke in similar, glowing terms, calling his friend “one of the nicest men I ever met.”

Bobby Richardson, a Southerner, had no quarrel with and, in fact, had a genial relationship with Howard. Richardson admired him: “Dignity is a word that comes to mind when I think about how Ellie handled the pressure. Ellie was a true gentleman.”

Richardson, an unapologetic but not pushy Christian, organized chapel services for the team for those players who wanted to participate. It was Elston Howard who helped him spread the word about when and where the services would be held.

Richardson also recalled one game when he got hit by a pitch and thought it was intentional. Ellie Howard was among the first teammates up the steps of the dugout to defend their diminutive second baseman. The pinstripe ethos displayed itself yet again.
Role Model

During those years, the young Howard boy, Elston, Jr., and the Richardson boy, Robby, played together, black and white, in the Yankee locker room. They took after the example set by their fathers.

In the stellar 1961 season, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris slammed home runs chasing Babe Ruth’s record, Ellie Howard, the unsung regular catcher, recorded a batting average of .348. He contributed 155 hits, 77 runs batted in, and 21 home runs. His day-in, day-out consistency in defensive play and guiding the pitchers made for a not at all insignificant chunk of the Yankees’ incredible success that year.

Howard, both as a catcher and a man, exhibited courage and winsome confidence. On Elston Howard Night in 1964 between games of a double header at Yankee Stadium, his remarks to the 37,362 in attendance were few, but gracious.

“This was Elston Howard,” the Amsterdam News said, “eloquent but not loquacious, gentle but strong. This is a man whose acts and whose very character is represented in actions and deeds rather than words.”

Elston Howard passed away in 1980 at age 51.

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  1. Replies
    1. Nope, but I did read his stuff, some/most, was mine with help from research from other places. I needed to read some articles to refresh my old memory!

      Next up could be the greatest Pitcher that ever was...Satchel Paige!


Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)