Yankee Pioneer

Elston Howard became the first African-American to wear the Pinstripes in 1955

February 01, 2013
Elston Howard (NBHOF Library)

Throughout Black History Month in February, the Hall of Fame celebrates the lives of African Americans who made historic contributions to the National Pastime.

By Ricky Gomez 

In April of 1947, Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers set the precedent for many teams and opened the gates of Major League Baseball to African Americans. Eight years later – on April 14, 1955 – Elston Howard became the first African-American to suit up for the crosstown New York Yankees. 

Howard was born on Feb. 23, 1929 in St. Louis, Mo. He attended Vashon High School in St. Louis, where he excelled in many sports, including basketball, football, track and especially, baseball. After graduating high school, he played in the Negro American League with the Kansas City Monarchs until the Yankees signed him in 1950. 

In his first game in the Yankees’ uniform, Howard made the most out of his one at-bat, getting a hit and a RBI. Howard finished the year with a .290 batting average, 10 home runs, and drove in 43 runs. He spent 12 more seasons with the Yankees before being traded to their archrival, the Red Sox. 

During his 12 seasons with New York Yankees, Howard was selected to nine All-Star teams and  won four World Series titles and two Gold Glove Awards at catcher – and made Major League Baseball history in 1963 by becoming the first African American to be awarded the American League Most Valuable Player Award. 

Although Howard died on Dec. 14, 1980 at the age of 51, his legacy remains in baseball today. The Yankees created a plaque in Monument Park where his number 32 remains retired. 

“If indeed, humility is a trademark of many great men,” said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. “Elston Howard was one of the truly great Yankees.” 

Celebrate Black History Month with the Museum’s Pastime’s Pride features. Subjects include Buck O’Neil, Elston Howard, Rachel Robinson, the Evolution of Night Baseball, Welday Walker, Herb Washington, Connie Morgan, Bill White, Sam Lacy, Octavius Catto, Willie Horton, Bob Watson, Pumpsie Green, Charlie Grant, William Matthews, Don Newcombe, Vic Power, Emmett Ashford and Hank Thompson. 

Ricky Gomez was a 2012 membership intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development. For information on how to apply for the Class of 2014 Steele Internship Program, click here