Elston Gene Howard – February 23rd in African American History

Elston Gene HowardFebruary 23, 1929 Elston Gene Howard, former Negro and Major League baseball player, was born in St. Louis, Missouri.

Growing up in St. Louis, Howard showed that baseball was not his his only strength.  He played football, ran track and made all-state in basketball.

In 1947, after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and debuted in the Major Leagues, there was hope that Howard would be able to make the jump from the negro Tandy League.  He was encouraged to attend an open try-out for the St. Louis Cardinals and would be turned away.  In fact, the St. Louis Cardinals was not have a black player until 1954 with Tom Alston.

As he was now 18, and being actively recruited by three of the top ten universities (Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State) for football and track, his mom has hopes of him being a doctor.

Instead, in 1948, the Kansas City Monarchs negotiated a professional contract with her for $500 a month.

In 1950, he was sold to the New York Yankees for $25,000 and in 1955 became the first African American to play for the Yankees. Over his 14 season career, Howard was a 9-time All-Star, 2-time Gold Glove winner, and in 1963 was the American League Most Valuable Player. He also played in 10 World Series.

After his retirement in 1968, he served as a First base coach for the Yankees from 1969 to 1979.  In 1980, after being diagnosed with myocarditis in which the muscles of his heart were being attacked by the coxsakie virus, he no longer had the strength for on field coaching and took an administrative postion from 1980 to his death on December 14, 1980. In 1984, the Yankees retired Howard’s uniform number and dedicated a plaque in his honor. His biography, “Elston and Me: The Story of the First Black Yankee,” was published in 2001.

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