Elston Howard Helped the Yankees' Hated Rival, the Red Sox, Win the 1967 Pennant

Harold FriendChief Writer IApril 12, 2012

NEW YORK - MAY 02:  The plaque of Elston Howard is seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The media have determined that the New York Yankees' greatest rival is the Boston Red Sox. Fans agree, although the Red Sox cannot add a defeat to the Yankees' most precious 27-13 World Series record.

Long ago, the Yankees had a great catcher named Elston Gene Howard. He was the first black Yankees player and an even finer person than he was a player. It was Ellie Howard that turned the 1958 World Series around with a spectacular catch when he was playing left field.

Time passed rapidly, the great Yankees’ players reached the end of the trail and by 1967, the Yankees were vying with the New York Mets as New York’s worst team. The Red Sox, a ninth-place team in 1966, were challenging for the pennant in 1967.

Forgetting about the rivalry, which was much less intense in those days, the Yankees tried to help out the Red Sox by trading Howard to them on Aug. 3  in return for Pete Mangini and a player to be named at the end of the season who turned out to be right-handed pitcher Ron Klimkowski.

The 38-year-old Howard expressed shock when manager Ralph Houk first told him that he had been traded and then told him where he would be going. For several hours, Howard gave retirement serious thought but decided to report to Boston.

"I wanted to finish my career with the Yankees,” Howard told reporters. “I talked it over with my wife, my business associates and Tom Yawkey before deciding to go to Boston.”

Red Sox owner Yawkey was extremely happy about acquiring Howard’s services. Manager Dick Williams said that Howard would be the backup catcher and help the younger pitchers.

Howard was batting .196/.247/.271 with three home runs in 66 games with the Yankees, but he was still a top defensive player behind the plate.

In 1964, the last time the Yankees won the pennant with Howard, he batted .313/.371/.455 with 15 home runs and 84 RBIs. He had surgery on his right elbow and was never the same offensively.

The Yankees and Red Sox are rivals, but circumstances occasionally dictate that one of them helps the other.  The Yankees would not have won the 1976 and 1977 pennants or the 1977 World Series without Sparky Lyle.

Howard appeared in 42 games with the Red Sox, batting only .147 with a home run and 11 runs batted in, but the Red Sox won the pennant. Howard, despite not providing offense, did provide defense and leadership. After all, he was the 1963 MVP and had appeared in nine World Series.