On November 7, 1963 Elston Howard of the New York Yankees was named the 1963 Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the American League. After Jackie Robinson broke through the color line in 1947 when he began playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, National League teams brought in more African American ballplayers than the American League and became integrated at a faster pace. By 1963, African Americans had won the National League MVP Award eleven times, Robinson winning the first in 1949 and a black player winning it consecutively from 1953 – 1959.
Howard was the first African American to win the MVP Award in the American League.
The Yankees signed Howard in 1950 when he was playing Negro League baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs. While in their minor league system the Yankees trained him to be a catcher. Howard played in 97 games his 1955 rookie season and hit 10 home runs while batting .290. He spent the next five years splitting time between playing left field and sharing the catching duties with future Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. In 1961, when he became the Yankees main catcher, Howard hit .348 with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs and in 1962 he hit .279 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs.
Yankee sluggers Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were both slowed by injuries during the 1963 season. But Howard provided the offensive punch the team needed. He batted fourth, the “clean-up” spot in the batting order, for most of the season. He led the team in home runs (28), batting average (.287), and was second in RBIs (85). With Howard’s efforts, the Yankees won their eighth of the nine American League pennants they captured during his time playing with the team (1955 – 1967).
Who was the African American catcher that finished eighth in the American League MVP voting in 1963?