Elston Howard made Yankees history in the first game of a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 14, 1955, when he became the first black player in franchise history.
A 26-year-old rookie in 1955, Howard played the corner outfield spots while backing up catcher Yogi Berra as a part-time player.
Howard debuted with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro American League in 1948 and in July 1950, the Monarchs sold Howard’s contract to the Yankees for $25,000, per the Society of American Baseball Research.
He finished the season at Class A Muskegon before his career was interrupted by a two-year stint in the Army during the Korean War. When he returned, he was promoted to AAA, playing a year in Kansas City and the 1954 season in Toronto.
Howard gradually began to play more often behind the plate and by 1960, he was the full-time catcher. But he had already made his mark, earning All-Star nods as a part-time player in 1957-59.
In 1961, Howard hit a career-high .348 with 21 home runs and a .936 OPS, but was completely overshadowed by the home-run race between teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
In 1963, Howard was the American League’s first black MVP, hitting .287/.342/.869 with an OPS+ of 141 to go with 28 homers and 85 RBI.
A shorter stroke in 1964 upped his batting average to .313 and he contributed 15 homers and 84 RBI while finishing third in the MVP voting.
He remained with the Yankees until he was dealt to the Red Sox in August 1967 and retired after being released in October 1968.
Howard came back to the Yankees as a coach from 1969-78, but heart problems forced him to give up the job and he died from heart failure on Dec. 14, 1980 at the age of 51.
He was a 12-time All-Star and won two Gold Gloves behind the plate for the Yankees, as well as helping them to four World Series titles. In parts of 13 seasons, Howard hit .279/.324/.760 with an OPS+ of 110 to go with 161 home runs, 733 RBI and 588 runs scored.