MLB: Remembering Emmett Ashford, the color-barrier breaking umpire

Nearly twenty years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB the game got its first African American umpire in Emmett Ashford.

Just like a reporter reporting on a piece is not supposed to become the story, an umpire calling a game should not be the topic of conversation when the game is over. However, the Sporting News once wrote fans will want to buy tickets to MLB games solely to see the enthusiasm of umpire Emmett Ashford.

MLB had never had an African American umpire before Ashford joined the ranks after spending fifth-teen years umpiring in various leagues. Ashford had his contract purchased from the Pacific Coast League by the American League and was sent to Washington in time for opening day 1966. His energetic calls and charisma with the players soon won many people over and he ultimately became a fan favorite.

Emmett Ashford was able to umpire for the American League for five years before reaching the mandatory retiring age of 55. During his time calling the game, Ashford was able to umpire an All-Star game as well as do the bases for the 1970 World Series. He was in line to call balls and strikes for Game 6 of the Series, but the Baltimore Orioles were able to close out the Cincinnati Reds in five games.

After his retirement, Ashford remained a part of the game when MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn hired him as a public relations advisor. Ashford ran clinics from coast to coast and even abroad and spoke at several events to help draw awareness for the game. Unfortunately, Ashford’s life was cut short when he suffered a heart attack at the age of 65. Ashford was cremated and his remains were interred in Cooperstown, New York, home of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier meant a lot to the game of baseball at the time.  Emmett Ashford breaking the color barrier for umpires was just as meaningful