Nov 19, 2012

Wondrous Seasons of the Past: Elston Howard in 1963

Elston Howard was a catcher for the Yankees.....and an outfielder...and a first baseman.   His career started late at the age of 26 because of the Korean War and Yogi Berra, and he was a semi-full time player for the first 5 years thanks to Yogi Berra.

He was the International League MVP in 1954, batting a robust .330/.380/.569 with 29 HR and 109 RBIs. Allie Reynolds pontificated that if they had had Howard in the lineup, they would have overtaken the Indians and won 112 games instead of the mortal 103 that they earned during that season.  (Sidenote:  It must have been really fun to be a Yankee during the '50s in some ways.  You got to be in the World Series every year except 1954 and 1959  Then again, everyone had to have a buzzcut.)

He was called up and bounced around the field from 1955-1958, squeezing at-bats amid Yogiisms and the toughness of breaking into the '50s juggernaut Yankees lineups.  He initially modeled his batting stance after Joe Dimaggio, but after an unsuccessful 1960 season (.245/.298/.353, 80 OPS+) it had to changed.  His manager, Ralph Houk, told him to hit it through the center to better square up the ball.

So, Howard adapted the point to centerfield before each at-bat that we can associate with Jim Thome or Ryan Howard and was also associated with Rocky Colavito.  That 1961 season was the best of his career, hitting .348/.387/.549 (153 OPS+), albeit in a not quite full-time role.

But he won the MVP in 1963 with a prodigious line for a catcher in a pitcher's era.....287/.342/.528 (141 OPS+) with 28 HR and 85 RBI, with a stellar catching line as well with a Gold Glove.  Of course, the Yankees won the pennant that year, so that may have helped in the voting.

He was 5th in the league in OPS, 8th in the league in AVG, 8th in RBIs, 9th in extra base hits, 2nd in catcher assists, 2nd in total zone rating for catchers, and 4th in caught stealing %.  That is some all-around goodness.   He was also seen as the expert handler of the pitching staff with the 2nd best ERA in the AL, presiding over the continued excellence of Whitey Ford and the emergences of Jim Bouton and Al Downing.

As pitcher Pedro Ramos once said, "With a catcher like Ellie, a pitcher can do no wrong."

"Hail to Howard
While yet he plays,
And honor ye your catcher
While unstill he toils on bended knee!
Deny him not the spoils of excellence
For simply that he's not become mere history."

(all non-statistical information in this post is from the book "Baseball Stars of 1965" article written by Norm Borrow.  Of course, all statistics are from

1 comment:

Commishbob said...

He owned Elston Howard Travel in my hometown of Nutley, New Jersey. When it opened my best friend and I would walk by daily hoping for a glimpse of a major leaguer. One day a woman waved us in to the offices and told us to come by that weekend. Sure enough Elston was there and he signed pictures for us. Probably my first in person autograph and definitely our first off the field encounter with an athlete. Cool memory.