Rosengren: 60 years ago, Elston Howard became the Yankees’ Jackie Robinson

From SABR member John Rosengren at on April 13, 2015:

April 13, 1955 was a good day for the Yankees. They kicked off their season by trouncing the Washington Senators 19-1 in the Bronx. Mickey Mantle had three hits, including a home run; Yogi Berra also homered; and Whitey Ford threw a complete game while allowing fewer hits (two) than he had himself (three, plus four RBIs). But New York’s most significant player that day never got off the bench. Two days shy of eight years exactly after Jackie Robinson hurdled Major League Baseball’s color barrier, Elston Howard became African-American player to don Yankees pinstripes.

The delay by America’s most popular and successful team to integrate had led to everything from editorials to picket lines, all of which had been ignored by New York’s top brass. In his book, Baseball’s Great Experiment, author Jules Tygiel quotes general manager George Weiss as saying, “The Yankees are not going to promote a Negro player to the Stadium simply in order to be able to say that they have such a player. We are not going to bow to pressure groups on this issue.”

To be fair, New York’s roster didn’t have many holes in those years, not when the team was winning six World Series titles from 1947-54. But there were certainly weak links that could have been bolstered had the Yankees not been so slow to embrace integration. Howard’s debut made New York the 13th of the 16 major league franchises then in existence to employ an African-American player. Weiss had previously passed on opportunities to sign Ernie Banks and Willie Mays, among others, and comments from Yankees staffers suggested prejudice had factored into keeping the team’s lineup all-white.

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Originally published: April 13, 2015. Last Updated: April 13, 2015.