The Cardinals gave Elston Howard a chance to become the first black broadcaster of a major-league team.
Howard rejected the offer because he had hopes of becoming the first black big-league manager.
Howard, a St. Louis native who played against the Cardinals in both the 1964 and 1967 World Series, retired after the 1968 season, ending a 14-year major-league playing career as a catcher and outfielder with the Yankees and Red Sox.
He joined the Yankees coaching staff in 1969. After that season, the Cardinals offered him a chance to join Jack Buck on their broadcasting team, replacing Harry Caray. Howard had broadcast high school football games in 1969 for a New York television station.
Howard, however, thought he had a good chance to eventually replace Ralph Houk as Yankees manager, so he opted to remain a coach rather than take the Cardinals’ historic offer.
Jim Woods, who had been on the Pirates broadcast team with Bob Prince, replaced Caray in St. Louis. It wasn’t until two years later that Howard revealed the Cardinals’ offer.
“Yankee coach Elston Howard said he was offered a job on the Cardinals play-by-play broadcast team after the 1969 season, but decided against it,” Neal Russo reported in the Feb. 27, 1971, edition of The Sporting News.
In the book “Elston and Me: The Story of the First Black Yankee” (2001, Missouri Press), authors Arlene Howard (Elston’s widow) and Ralph Wimbish write, “Someone from the Cardinals called and asked if he was interested in becoming a broadcaster … He (Howard) turned down an offer to work with Jack Buck doing St. Louis Cardinals games.”
Instead, Bill White, the former Cardinals first baseman and a friend of Howard, became the first black broadcaster of a big-league team, joining the Yankees crew in 1971.
Howard remained a loyal, respected Yankees coach. When Houk stepped down as manager after the 1973 season, the Yankees bypassed Howard and hired former Cardinals outfielder Bill Virdon as manager for 1974.
In 1975, Frank Robinson became the first black big-league manager, with the Cleveland Indians.
Howard had hoped, even expected, to begin his big-league playing career with his hometown Cardinals. He attended a tryout camp at St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park and performed well, but the Cardinals never made an offer.
“The Cardinals once had Howard all set for signing,” The Sporting News reported in 1971, “but that was just before they began signing Negroes.”
Howard signed with the Yankees in 1950. When he made it to the big leagues with them in 1955 at 26, he was the first black Yankees player _ eight years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers and one year after the first black (Tom Alston) played for the Cardinals.
Howard played in 10 World Series (9 with the Yankees) and won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1963.
In 1980, he died at 51 of heart disease.