The 1968 Topps Elston Howard baseball card helped nightmares come true for New York Yankees fans.
I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen to the Yankees and their faithful, in a baseball sense?
There are a few pretty dreadful, if hypothetical, “worsts”:
- Organizational suspension by MLB
If we take those off the table as any sort of real possibilities, though, we get to the sort of problems that only the “haves” teams even consider on a regular basis:
- Not winning the World Series
- Posting a losing record for more than one year in a row
- Missing the playoffs
Pretty ho-hum for most teams.
But these are the Yankees we’re talking about, the greatest club since club soda or Fight Club or Captain Caveman.
And, like every great hero (or villain, depending on your perspective), the Yanks have their archnemesis — the Boston Red Sox.
So, for the Yankees, there is a whole ‘nother tier of worst possible outcomes in any given season, or cosmically:
- They lose a game to the Red Sox
- They lose a series to the Red Sox
- The Red Sox win the World Series
- A Yankee legend ends up with the Red Sox
And there’s the rub for that 1968 Topps burlap sack featuring Howard, an all-time great Yankee …
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You see the problem, right?
Even for non-Yankees fans, this card looks all kinds of wrong.
Elston Howard, New York’s MVP, maybe-Hall-of-Fame catcher … in a Red Sox uniform? On a Red Sox baseball card??
Yeah, it happened, and the Yanks made it happen.
See, in August of 1967, with New York hopelessly out of the American League race, and with Boston clawing through a five-team scramble for the pennant, the Yanks sent Howard to Beantown in exchange for Pete Magrini and Ron Klimkowski (the dreaded “player to be named later”).
Though Howard struggled at the plate down the stretch for the BoSox, they accomplished their goal of taking the AL flag before falling to the Cardinals in an epic seven-game World Series.
That Sawx Series miss may have provided a bit of cold comfort to New Yorkers, but 1968 wasn’t much better.
The Yanks did finish fifth in the AL, up from ninth in 1967 … but if you’re not first, you’re not a Yankee. Or something.
And the Red Sox did fall to fourth, so that was something. But fourth is still above fifth.
And Mickey Mantle did manage to play in 144 games … but he hit just .237 with 18 home runs.
Those would also be the last at-bats of The Mick’s career, though he didn’t make that official until the next spring.
And … well, Elston Howard played for the Red Sox again in 1968.
After he hit just .241 with five dingers, though, Boston released him in October, and he, too, was done in the majors.
Topps did Yankees fans a solid the next spring — two, actually.
First, they included Mantle in their base set one last time, even though he never took the field.
And, second, the didn’t roll out another card of Elston Howard in his Red Sox uniform, since they knew the previous fall that he wouldn’t be back.
So, as they often do, the Yankees came out ahead, barely, in that 1969 Topps issue, though certainly not on the field.
Well, we missed out on a career-capper of a Yankees great, sure, but also one of the great catchers of the 1950s and 1960s.
You can find all sorts of amazing Elston Howard memorabilia out there, like this lot offered up on eBay:
That’s a solo Howard signature on an official American League baseball.
Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).
1968 topps baseball cards #476 and up, HIGH NUMBERS, complete your set
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1968 Topps Baseball Cards - Singles - You Pick (Card #'s 1-250)- Free Shipping
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