For Elston Howard, there was never a second thought about being first. He was the first African American player to play for the New York Yankees, and the first African American to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1963. On April 14, 1955 the Yankees called him up and he got his first Major League hit-you guessed it- in his first at bat.
But his first professional baseball service came as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. There he spent three years as an outfielder, rooming with a future Chicago Cubs legend, Ernie Banks.
With Yogi Berra firmly entrenched behind the plate, Howard had to be patient with the Yankees. Always the gentleman, he waited until his opportunity came. His early years were spent as Berra’s backup, in the outfield, and occasionally at first base. Despite not having a regular position, he was selected for the 1957 All-Star team.
That was just the start of his incredible run. He made the All Star team 12 times in all. He was a six-time World Series champion, including two as the Yankees first base coach in 1977 and 1978. He won two Gold Gloves in 1963 and 1964.
After his passing in 1980, the Yankees honored Howard by wearing black arm bands during the 1981 season. In 1984, the Yankees retired his number 32 and dedicated a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. The plaque reads: “A man of great gentleness and dignity and one of the truly great Yankees.”
Perhaps the most accurate description of Elston Howard comes from a quote by Muhammad Ali. Ali once said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
That is what Elston Howard was, a champion. That’s why he never settled for less than first. Yanks Go Yard celebrates the accomplishments of Elston Howard on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.