MLB honors first African-American ump Ashford

April 11th, 2016

Teams throughout Major League Baseball are honoring former umpire Emmett Ashford on Monday by wearing a patch with his initials to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his umpiring debut.

Ashford became the first African-American umpire in MLB history during the 1966 season, with his first game in Washington. He served as the third-base umpire.

Ashford, a Los Angeles native, worked his way up the umpiring ranks, first doing recreational baseball and softball in Southern California. He became the first African-American umpire in organized baseball in 1951 in the Southwestern International League. After that season, he quit his job as a U.S. Postal worker to ump full time.

Ashford worked 12 years in the Pacific Coast League, becoming a well-known personality in the process.

"He was a showman, exuberant, strong, alert, loud and expressive," Paul Wysard told of Ashford. "He was constantly in motion, full of nervous energy and obviously delighted to be out there in front of everybody."

Those traits remained when Ashford finally got the call to the Majors before the 1966 season, when his contract was purchased by the American League and president Joe Cronin.

"I feel proud being an umpire in the big leagues," Ashford once said. "Not because I am the first Negro, but because umpires in the Major Leagues are very select people."

Ashford worked in the AL from 1966-70 and was later hired by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn as a public-relations adviser. He died of a heart attack in 1980 at the age of 65.