I admit, I generally don’t pay too much attention to umpires. But when my trusty Orioles desk calendar informed me the other day that the first African-American umpire in the Major Leagues was Emmett Ashford, I realized I needed to know more about him.
Ashford was born in 1914 in Los Angeles, CA. After college, he took a job with the U.S. Postal Service in 1936 and served in the Navy during World War II. While stationed at Corpus Christi, TX, in 1945, Ashford heard about Jackie Robinson signing a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He decided then that he would become the first black umpire.
In 1951, Ashford resigned from his post office job and began his umpiring career in the minor leagues and became known for his theatrical and entertaining umpiring. In 1966, at age 51 and after 15 years in the minors, he was finally offered a Major League umpire job. It wouldn’t be until 1993 when the American League hired the second black umpire, Chuck Meriwether. Despite being a barrier breaker, Emmett Ashford is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I still don’t pay much attention to umpires, but Mr. Ashford’s story certainly caught my attention.