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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bill James Online: Elston Howard

I’m not saying that Elston Howard was slow-footed…but the old Elston Howard Travel Agency in Fort Lee, NJ. did have a contract with Dinghy Cruise Lines.

Maybe they could all go in at the same time? Elston Howard? I was a wee lad, but hindsight suggests there was perhaps no greater beneficiary of the Yankee mystique in All Star and MVP voting than Howard.


I’ll look at that MVP race, but few players in history suffered more from circumstances than Howard.  First, he played in Yankee Stadium, which at that time was huge to left field, and he hit far, far better on the road than in his home park. ... one of the largest home field DISadvantages of any player who ever played (will detail shortly.)  Second, although he was a player of immense ability he was past 30 before he got a chance to play regularly, because he was trapped for years behind the greatest catcher of all time. Third, of course, he was a black player; I think Elston was three years younger than Duke Snider, but whereas Snider was in the majors by 1947 and was finished with his prime by 1956, Howard (although he made the All-Star team in 1959) wasn’t really a regular until 1961.  Howard really was only a few years younger than Berra.

The 1963 MVP race. ....there just really wasn’t an MVP season in that league.  I think the true MVP might actually have been Tom Tresh or possibly Carl Yastrzesmki, but Tresh and Yaz didn’t really have MVP seasons, either; it’s just a question of somebody has to win, and Howard’s probably not a bad pick.

Howard’s home/road splits. ..In 1959 he hit .237 with 5 homers, 21 RBI at home, .305 with 13 homers, 52 RBI on the road.  In 1962 his average was pretty even (.275 at home, .283 on the road) but he hit 3 homers, drove in 31 runs at home, as opposed to 18 and 60 on the road.  In 1963 he hit .263 with 10 and 37 at home, .300 with 18 and 48 on the road.    In 1964 he hit .279 with 3 homers, 35 RBI at home, .344 with 12 homers, 49 RBI on the road.    In 1965 he hit 9 homers—all of them on the road.    In his career he hit 54 home runs at home, 113 on the road.

Repoz Posted: December 24, 2011 at 02:40 PM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: awards, history, yankees

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   1. Howie Menckel Posted: December 24, 2011 at 03:53 PM (#4022987)
http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/hall_of_merit/discussion/1963_MMP_results/

"The 1963 MVP race. ....there just really wasn’t an MVP season in that league."

Indeed.
In that Most Meritorious Player voting above, which features a mixed ballot, the top 8 picks all were from the NL - and no one had an AL player in the top 5. We had Gary Peters, Bob Allison, and Howard among the 'also-rans.'
   2. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: December 24, 2011 at 04:28 PM (#4023015)
Tom Tresh -- talk about falling off a cliff.
   3. Don Malcolm Posted: December 25, 2011 at 03:43 AM (#4023224)
Bill is being a little selective in his examples, a habit he picked up back in the day...Howard's career splits (.732 OPS at home, .764 on the road) don't look nearly as lopsided (aside from the HR totals) as what Bill's representing. He clearly lost HRs at Old Yankee, but he hit more twice as many triples there than on the road, including all seven in his rookie season (1955).

Odd fact: despite his lack of foot speed, Howard had the most triples of any catcher between 1950 and 1970, more than Johnny Roseboro, who could run (and often did more than he should have, with 56 CS to go with his 67 SB). The park gave him back something even as it took away.

The other thing that Bill elides is that Howard had a mild amount of difficulties in his early career against RHP--he didn't really start holding his own until 1959, and he just stopped hitting righties at all in '65. That was one of the reasons why Stengel didn't play him more at the beginning.

He could hit lefties, though.

The AL MVP in '63 was just an anomalous situation. The Yanks ran away with the pennant with less than a full season's worth of PAs from Mantle and Maris combined; Howard probably got votes as the veteran presence who anchored the team. He also had a pretty darned good year.
   4. AndrewJ Posted: December 25, 2011 at 05:25 PM (#4023271)
Odd fact: despite his lack of foot speed, Howard had the most triples of any catcher between 1950 and 1970

Gives the lie to Casey Stengel's alleged claim that "We finally sign a (black) and we get the only one who can't run."

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