For black history month, I was proud to be invited to Suffolk Community College to speak about my history with the Yankees.
The faculty wanted to know what it was like to be a person of color during that era, especially with such a high profile organization like the New York Yankees. They wanted to know how intimidating it was to be so young and work for two such powerful sports figures like George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin.
I got an opportunity to talk about the first black Yankee, Elston Howard, and the impact that he had on anyone who got to know this great man. I loved telling the story of when the Yankees were taking a bus trip across the state of Florida during spring training and when they stopped at a diner, Elston wasn’t allowed in. Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle told the team to go and get their food and Billy and the Mick stayed with Elston. Mickey jokingly said that the food would taste better in the bus anyway. This story was first told to me by Elston and Billy back in the 70s while I was feeling sorry for myself after a stadium employee said some negative things to me. Billy was trying to say, ‘You think you have it bad?’
Elston Howard was truly a big brother to all and was never shy at telling all players, not just black players, the right way to being a man, not just being a baseball player but a man.
Elston was very good friends with Jackie Robinson. During his career, he would talk to Jackie often because he understood the impact he would have on future Yankees of color, especially when they found out that, not only was Elston a terrific baseball player, but also someone of historical significance.
I used to love to see the great Thurman Munson sit down with Elston and pick his brain. Thurman probably respected Elston more than any coach on the Yankees.
With pride, I was able to tell the faculty and students about how George Steinbrenner had a great respect for all the contributions that African Americans have made in America. I loved how so many of his African American friends from the world of track, like Harrison Dillard, would come to spring training to teach the players proper running techniques.
One student asked me how things are, now that the Boss is no longer with us. I explained that Hal Steinbrenner and the Steinbrenner family and team President Randy Levine picked up where the Boss left off and have taken this Juggernaut known as the Yankees to the next level. Our team General Manager Brian Cashman worked and learned from the first African American general manager in Yankee history, the late Bob Watson. I think Bob would be very proud of his student and the fact that Cashman might someday get to the Hall of Fame.
The contributions of African Americans in Yankee history, especially during the Steinbrenner era, have been wonderful and as I told everyone here at Suffolk Community College…. I am forever grateful and proud to be a part of the YANKEES!!!