(KMOV) – In a town known as a “Baseball Heaven” Cardinal fans usually reserve their cheers for the Red Birds, this week they were praising an opponent who credits a St. Louisan for paving his way.
In 1955 Elston Howard, who attended Vashon High School, became the first African American to play for the New York Yankees.
“He was a pioneer not only for St. Louis but I think throughout the world for young African Americans. If Elston Howard can do it, I can do it,” said Matthews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club founder Martin Matthews.
Howard’s historic 1963 campaign featured one of his nine all-star appearances and his first of two Gold Gloves. By the end of the season, Howard was the first black player to win the American League’s Most Valuable Player award.
“To be on that team and to be the first African American he had to be able to play and to play real well. We knew he was a force and a factor,” added Cardinal Hall of Famer Lou Brock.
Racism was also a force and factor for Howard. Howard’s wife Arlene shared something Jackie Robinson often told her husband, “He used to say to Elston, I feel that your job is tougher than mine because the Dodgers wanted me, they came after me, they signed me. The Yankees really didn’t want to sign Elston or I guess any other African American player at the time”.
Controversy spurred camaraderie with Howard’s Yankee teammates.
“People like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle. All these players were wonderful to him and just embraced him,” said Howard’s daughter Cheryl.
Although Howard’s life had changed, he still saw St. Louis as a place where time stood still.
“He was very much a family man so it was very important for him to ground his roots in St. Louis,” added Cheryl Howard.
Howard’s Alma Mater, Vashon High School, houses his Hall of Fame plaque feet from his portrait inside a field house named after him.
“When I see that picture I see greatness. I see hard work. I see talent. I see an amazing man who did something with his life and became something,” said Vashon baseball player Isiah Nelson.
New York Yankee Derek Jeter credits Howard with breaking through barriers and paving the way for his success on the team. Jeter said, “It goes without saying, being the first African American in Yankee history. He’s helped pave the way for players like myself to come along”.