A Brief History
On February 20, 1952, Los Angeles-native Emmett Ashford became the first African-American umpire to work in integrated (mainly white) professional baseball when he left his Post Office job to work for the International Southwestern League.
Ashford then went on to umpire in other mostly white professional leagues, reaching his minor-league pinnacle as the Umpire-in-Chief of the Pacific Coast League, where he trained and directed all the umpires and mediated arguments over rules. In 1966, Ashford became the first black major league umpire, officiating in the American League.
Ashford worked as a major league umpire until 1970, bringing his enthusiasm and showmanship to show. He had enormous energy as he ran around the field to get the best angle of observation of plays, and he indicated strikes, balls, outs and other calls with exaggerated gusto. With immaculate uniforms, highly polished shoes, and flashy jewelry, Ashford also openly displayed his sense of style. (I personally attended at least one Cleveland Indians game umpired by Ashford and remember his hilarious calling of balls and strikes.)
Ashford was also an anti-ageism pioneer, managing to work for an additional year after reaching the American League maximum age of 55 for umpires in 1969. Highlights of his career included umpiring the 1967 Major League All-Star game and the 1970 World Series.
After finally retiring from the field, Ashford worked for the Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, as an advisor and as a commercial spokesman before dying of a heart attack at age 65 in 1980.
Ashford had been a World War II U.S. Navy veteran and said he received his inspiration to become a major league umpire when he heard the news that Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color line in 1947. Despite all of his accomplishments, he is not one of the 10 umpires enshrined in the Hall of Fame! Question for students (and subscribers): I think he belongs in there, don’t you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bratton, Adrienne. Strrr-ike!! My First Biography: Emmett Ashford, Baseball Umpire. AuthorHouse, 2004.