In December 1960, the Cardinals made a bid to acquire catcher Elston Howard from the Yankees. While they were at it, they tried for pitcher Whitey Ford, too.
It was an audacious attempt, coming two months after a World Series in which Howard hit .462 and Ford pitched a pair of shutouts, but Cardinals general manager Bing Devine indicated the Yankees gave him reason to try.
The Cardinals offered pitchers Larry Jackson and Ron Kline, plus catcher Hal Smith, for Ford, Howard and pitcher Ryne Duren.
The Yankees said no _ and, as it turned out, were mighty glad they did so.
The Cardinals were in the market for a power hitter because in 1960 only one player, Ken Boyer, hit more than 17 home runs for them. Howard hit for power and played multiple positions _ catcher, outfield and first base.
“Anybody who can play two or three positions capably is going to be able to write his own ticket, and Howard can do that,” Devine told Bob Burnes of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “He’s probably the best catcher in the American League, but can do almost as well in the outfield or at first base.”
Born and raised in St. Louis, Howard did well in a tryout with the Cardinals after he graduated from Vashon High School in the late 1940s, but the club wasn’t signing black players then and never made him an offer.
When Howard reached the big leagues in 1955 at 26, he was the first black Yankees player _ eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Dodgers and one year after the first black, Tom Alston, played for the Cardinals.
In 1960, Howard was an American League all-star for the fourth consecutive season. Devine “tried hard to land him,” the Globe-Democrat reported.
Connecting the dots
After losing to the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, the Yankees replaced manager Casey Stengel with Ralph Houk and general manager George Weiss with Roy Hamey.
The Yankees had three catchers, Howard (31), fellow St. Louisan Yogi Berra (35) and Johnny Blanchard (27), and Houk was considering moving Berra to the outfield, the Globe-Democrat reported.
According to The Sporting News, “The Cardinals had heard reports that, because of the rapid development of Johnny Blanchard, the Yankees might be willing to trade Howard.”
If that was so, Devine figured, Cardinals catcher Hal Smith, a defensive specialist, might appeal to the Yankees as an experienced backup to Blanchard.
Also, reliever Ryne Duren, who had 67 strikeouts in 49 innings for the 1960 Yankees, appeared obtainable to the Cardinals because of reports he “was in the doghouse with Houk,” The Sporting News reported.
The Yankees had expressed interest in Cardinals pitcher Ron Kline, according to The Sporting News.
Devine approached Hamey with an offer of Smith and Kline for Howard and Duren. The Yankees wanted more, and that’s how Larry Jackson and Whitey Ford got mentioned, The Sporting News noted.
Expanding the offer
Ford (32) was the Yankees’ ace, but he experienced shoulder problems during the 1960 season and finished 12-9, his lowest winning percentage (.571) since entering the majors in 1950. Before he shut out the Pirates in Games 3 and 6 of the World Series, the Yankees talked to the Giants about a swap of Ford for pitcher Johnny Antonelli, the Associated Press reported.
That gave Devine the idea Ford may be obtainable in exchange for another quality starter. In order to expand the deal for Howard, Devine offered Larry Jackson, an 18-game winner for the Cardinals in 1960, if the Yankees would swap Ford.
On Dec. 5, 1960, a headline in the Globe-Democrat declared, “Redbirds May Land Ford, Howard.”
“The possibility of a Cardinals-Yankees trade, involving major athletes on both sides, picked up steam,” Jack Herman reported in the Globe-Democrat. “One thing that’s been established is the fact that Ford is on the block.”
According to John Fox, sports editor of the Binghamton (N.Y.) Press and Sun-Bulletin, the Cardinals said “the offer stood only if Ford was inspected first by a physician of their naming.”
Ford told the Associated Press, “I don’t know if I’d quit or not if I were traded. It all depends on where I was traded.”
Howard said, “I don’t want to be traded. I’m happy where I am.”
On Dec. 6, 1960, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Yankees co-owner Dan Topping “turned thumbs down” on the Cardinals’ proposal. “We won’t deal Howard,” he said.
Though Houk told The Sporting News that “talk of our considering any offer which included Ford was based on hot air,” the Binghamton newspaper reported the reason the proposal was rejected “was not the idea of including Duren or Ford, but the request for Howard.”
The Cardinals’ chances for a deal also were hampered by the entrance of the Dodgers into trade talks for Howard. “We got a better proposition from the Dodgers,” Houk told The Sporting News.
If the Yankees added rookie pitcher Bill Short to the package, the deal with the Dodgers would have been made, United Press International reported.
Instead, the Yankees stayed pat, and got rewarded.
In 1961, Ford was 25-4, got two more wins in the World Series against the Reds and received the Cy Young Award. Howard batted a career-high .348 with 21 home runs. Two years later, he won the 1963 American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Hal Smith developed a heart ailment and had to quit playing in June 1961. Larry Jackson had four fewer wins (14) in 1961 than he had the year before, and Ron Kline got sent to the Angels.