Saturday, November 14, 2009

Final Card: Elston Howard

Elston Howard (#167) began playing baseball in 1948 as an outfielder for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro American League. There, he was a teammate of future Chicago Cub Ernie Banks. Buck O'Neill (who came to my attention in Ken Burns' excellent mini-series on baseball) was the manager of that team.

In July 1950, the Yankees purchased his contract from the Monarchs and assigned him to their farm system, where he learned to be a catcher. His first season for the Yankees was 1955. Since the Yankees already had Yogi Berra catching, and an outfield that included Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer, Howard's playing time came mainly in left field, which he shared with Norm Siebern, as well as backing up at catcher and 1st base.

In 1960, Howard finally became a regular, catching more games than Berra. From 1961 to 1963, he hit over 20 home runs per season, and won the AL MVP award in 1963.

In August 1967, Elston was traded to the Red Sox, where he was a steadying influence on their pitching staff (and I assume, a mentor for Boston's young catchers Mike Ryan and Russ Gibson). Howard played in the 1967 World Series for the Red Sox, his 10th series. He was released after the 1968 season, ending a 14-year major-league career.

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