Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 20: Emmett L. Ashford, Umpire

On this date in History ..... 1952:

Emmett L. Ashford becomes the first African-American umpire in organized (Major League) baseball.
Ashford had served as an umpire in games when he was asked to fill in for a no-show umpire. He was serving in the Navy when he heard the news that Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier into baseball and at that moment he wanted to become the first black umpire. He was known for his interaction with the crowds between innings. He wore shined shoes, a suit and flashy jewelry, a style that was unheard of for umpires.  The Sporting News stated that "For the first time in the history of the grand old American game, baseball fans may buy a ticket to watch an umpire perform.” 

Ashford was raised by his mother. In high school, he played baseball and ran track, was a member of the scholarship club and was the first black senior class president. He worked in various leagues as an umpire and eventually quit his coveted post office job of fifteen years, walking away from a nice pension, to umpire full time. 
He broke color barriers off the field, too. He charmed his critics and admirers alike, relying on his quick wit and intelligence to get him through a crisis. In one southwest city early in his career Ashford needed to find a place a black man could sleep. He went to the best hotel in town and approached the desk. "Sir," he explained, "I am that barefoot, uncultured Negro man you have been reading about and I wish to seek lodging in your excellent establishment." He got the room, and his charm would get him many other rooms, and many meals in restaurants.
Prior to his first season, Ashford reflected, "I feel proud being an umpire in the big leagues. Not because I am the first Negro, but because umpires in the major leagues are very select people.
In 1970 he achieved the big dream of being an umpire in the World Series.
Ashford only got to ump in the major leagues for five years before he retired at age 56 due to his eyesight, but he served those five years with no regrets of the shortness of time.  He said, "Think of all the people who live an entire life and do not accomplish one thing they really wanted to do. I have done something I wanted to do. I have that satisfaction."
When he died in 1980, his cremated remains were scattered over Cooperstown, NY, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Sources for this article included a wonderful column found at .

No comments:

Post a Comment