Elston Howard should be in Hall of Fame

Isn’t it time to enshrine Elston Howard in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown? Isn’t it time to recognize the great career of the first African-American to play for the exalted New York Yankees?

In my latest Substack post, I make the case why it is time to have that conversation. And while you are there, I would be most appreciative if you subscribe to my Sportscaster Dan newsletter.

Thank you.

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When Red Sox fans took over Yankee Stadium

Much is being made of Amed Rosario’s walk-off home run at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 28, which gave the New York Mets a victory over the Yankees. In this strange Covid-riddled season, visiting clubs are being designated as the home team for some games, because of scheduling situations. But what about when the archrival Boston Red Sox invaded Yankee Stadium to play the Yankees and Red Sox fans outnumbered Yankees fans by the thousands? It happened in one of the greatest seasons in Red Sox history.

Impossible Dream

It was 1967 and the Red Sox were in a historic four-way American League Pennant race with the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox. Boston came to Yankee Stadium for a four-game series Aug. 28–30. Meanwhile, the Yankees, three seasons removed from their last dynasty, were languishing near the cellar, 15 1/2 games out of first, in their so-called “Horace Clarke” era. The club finished last the season before, right behind the now-improved Red Sox. Attendance had dropped dramatically at a rundown stadium and the Mets, playing in shiny, new Shea Stadium, had taken over New York City’s baseball rooting interest. If the Yanks drew 10,000 to a game, it was considered a good night.

With new, blue seats, an exterior and interior stadium paint job and ushers, wearing spiffy new outfits, the Yankees were hoping for a rebound in fan interest, but those who were mostly in attendance for the next three days were more interested in the Red Sox.

Monday night battle

The series opened on Monday night, Aug. 28 and 27,206 fans were in Yankee Stadium, most of them rooting for the Red Sox. (Many Sox fans came from Connecticut and thousands of Red Sox fans lived in New York City.)

Elston Howard, one of the backbones of the Yankees Dynasty, was now catching for Boston. Earlier in the month the Red Sox had acquired Howard from the Bombers for another catcher, Bob Tillman. During batting practice, Red Sox manager Dick Williams made a point in front of reporters of thanking his counterpart, Ralph Houk, for sending Howard his way. Howard did not disappoint his skipper, knocking in a run and throwing out Mickey Mantle, attempting to steal second base, in the Red Sox 3–0 win. Mantle ended up injuring his foot and was sidelined for the remainder of the series.

Coincidentally, Howard had broken up Red Sox rookie, lefty Billy Rohr’s no-hit bid in the ninth inning, earlier in the season in the Yankees’ home opener with former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her son, John, seated near the Red Sox dugout. And it was Howard, who greeted Mantle at home plate in a May 14 game against Baltimore, after Mick belted his 500th career home run. Howard was the next batter.

Dave Morehead notched the victory, pitching 5 1/3 innings, but Sparky Lyle hurled 3 1/3 innings with nothing to show for it, statistically. What would have been a save was not considered an official statistic in 1967. Lyle, by the way, would be traded to the Yankees and win the Cy Young Award in 1977, helping the Bronx Bombers win their first World Series in 15 seasons.

Sox fans jam Stadium

The second night of the series featured a twi-night doubleheader and it was a doozy. On the day Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were paired in the final round of the rain-delayed Westchester Classic in nearby Harrison, NY, 40,314 jammed Yankee Stadium, most of the fans cheering on the Red Sox. (Covering the game for the New York Daily News, Larry Fox referred to the attendance as “the Beantown oriented crowd.”)

In the first game, the Red Sox nipped the Yankees, 2–1, as Jim Lonborg – who would go on to win the Cy Young Award – outdueled Mel Stottlemyre, winning his 18th game. Both pitchers hurled complete games in a tidy 2:10. Who knew the second game would produce the longest game in the history of this renowned ballpark?

It wasn’t until 1:57 the following morning, long after the 27-year-old Nicklaus won the golf tournament, that the aforementioned Clarke delivered a run-scoring single in the 20th inning to give the Yankees a 4–3 victory. The two clubs had to be back at the ballpark for the series finale, 12 hours later.

Series finale

Not content with 20 innings, the Red Sox and Yankees played extras again in the day game. Carl Yastrzemski, who had been rested because he was in a slump, was inserted late in the game and snapped a 1–1 tie with a home run off of Yankees starter Al Downing in the 11th inning. (Downing became famous as the Dodgers pitcher who served up the home run to Hank Aaron that broke Babe Ruth’s career home run mark.) On the wings of Yastrzemski’s 35th home run – which ended an 0-for-18 skein – the Red Sox had a 2–1 win, before 22,766, most of them Boston fans. The Red Sox left town in first place by a game-and-a-half.

As the New York Times reported: “…the Yankees and Red Sox completed 40 innings of hard-fought baseball replete with outstanding defensive plays, in just under 24 hours.”

The Red Sox would go on to win their first pennant in 21 years, with the race going down to the season’s final day. But in an “Impossible Dream” year, for three days the impossible occurred at Yankee Stadium, when Boston fans stormed the big ballpark, making the Red Sox players feel right at home.