Thursday, March 9, 2017

Slightly More Than One-Year Wonder Pt. 1: Elston Howard

These players made it longer than one full season, but less than two seasons.  They do not qualify as one-year wonders.  They lasted slightly too long.  But they still spent a brief part of their careers with the Red Sox.
Elston Howard was a longtime Yankees star, so seeing him in a Red Sox uniform must have been quite strange for Yankees fans.  Howard was notable for being the first black player for the Yankees when he made his Major League debut in the 1955 season, four years before the Red Sox finally had their first black player, but eight years after Jackie Robinson.  

Howard was a good player from the start, but he would eventually become a great player.  The catcher was a 12-time All Star over nine consecutive seasons (there were two All Star games played for several years in the late 1950's/early 1960's).  He was the catcher on four World Championship teams and often played well in the postseason.  He had his finest season in 1963 when he won the AL MVP by hitting .287/.342/.528 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs.  He was also a two-time Gold Glove winner.  

Unfortunately, Howard's numbers declined significantly over the next few seasons.  He played in 66 games with the Yankees in the 1967 season and hit just .196/.247/.271 with three home runs and 17 RBIs before he was traded in a rare deal between the Yankees and Red Sox for Pete Magrini and Ron Klimkowski.  Howard played 42 games with the Red Sox the rest of the Impossible Dream season.

His decline continued over the course of the stretch run and Howard hit just .147/.211/.198 with one home run and eleven RBIs.  He did play well behind the plate though and made several key plays as Boston fought their way to the World Series.  Howard hit .111 in the World Series, but he did have an important RBI in Game 5 against the Cardinals.

1968 was Howard's final season of his career and was his only full season with the Red Sox, though he played in only 71 games.  He was a little better at the plate and hit .241/.317/.335 with five home runs and 18 RBIs.  He was released at the end of the season and retired.  

The nice thing about Howard with the Red Sox is that his only Topps card is a legitimate Red Sox card.  He is clearly wearing a Red Sox uniform unlike other late 1967 acquisitions like Gary Bell and Jerry Adair.  After years with the Yankees, Howard's final Topps card from his playing career shows him with the Red Sox.

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