Elston Howard (Born February 23, 1929, St. Louis; d. December 14, 1980, New York), was a Major League Baseball player.
In 1948, the 19-year-old Howard entered the Negro Leagues, playing for the Kansas City Monarchs. He played three years as an outfielder and catcher.
He was the first African-American to play for the New York Yankees. The Yankees were relatively late to sign African-American players, but finally signed Vic Power and Howard. Power, however, was traded away to the Philadelphia Athletics before ever playing a game for the Yankees.
Howard was signed from the Monarchs on July 19, 1950. He was assigned to the Yankees' farm team at Muskegon, Michigan, and after several years in the minors, played his first game for the Yankees on April 14, 1955. Quote from 1955 Bowman company baseball card: "Elston comes to the Yankees as on of the most heralded rookies in many years. Although he has been a catcher, and is carried on the roster as a catcher, it is thought that he may be converted into an outfielder. It seems he is just too good not to play regularly major league ball, and yet it is hard to displace a veteran as good as Yogi Berra. Elston was with Toronto in 1954, and he batted .331, he had 22 homers and 108 runs batted in, to his credit. However, from what the experts say, statistics don't tell half the story."
He played in nine All-Star Games, every year from 1957 to 1965. His best year was 1961 when he had a career best .348 average on a legendary team that featured Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. He was awarded the Most Valuable Player award in 1963, the first black player to win it in the American League. That year he batted .287 and hit a career high 28 home runs. He won the Gold Glove Award twice, in 1963 and 1964.
On August 3, 1967 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Pete Magrini and a player to be named later (Ron Klimkowski was sent to the Yankees five days later). He was assigned uniform number 18 by the Red Sox, and played a vital role in the Red Sox winning the American League pennant that year.
On October 29, 1968 he was released by the Red Sox. The next year, he returned to the Yankees, where he coached for 11 years. He was the first black coach in the American League.
He died of a heart ailment at age 51 in New York City. He was interred at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, New Jersey. In his memory, the Yankees wore black armbands on their sleeve during the 1981 season.
On July 21, 1984, the Yankees retired Howard's uniform number 32 and dedicated a plaque in his honor for their Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. On the same day, the Yankees gave the same honors to Roger Maris, who, unlike Howard, was then still alive to receive the honor. Howard's plaque calls him "A man of great gentleness and dignity."