06 November 2009


Yesterday, I made a reference to Emmett Ashford, a former Major League Umpire (American League), who was the first Black Man to umpire in Professional Baseball, indeed the first Black American to umpire in the Major Leagues .

And while Jackie Robinson has been properly honored for breaking down the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, (nudging out Larry Doby who joined the Cleveland Indians of the American League 11 weeks after Robinson's debut) I started wondering where the honors are for Emmett Ashford? The man who broke down an equally Berlin Wall type of racial inequality by becoming the first Black Umpire in the Major Leagues nearly 20 years after Robinson and Doby made a major league lineup. Which didn't happen for Ashford until 1966, after breaking into the minors in 1952. (How long does it take to develop a strike zone?)

And never mind why it took Emmett nearly 14 years after his minor league debut to garner a spot in the bigs as an umpire. I am certain that someone could get a PH.D filling in the blanks on that 1950's Americana and Baseball Social Commentary.

But how come there are no monuments or statues of Emmett Ashford? Why isn't he in some kind of Hall of Fame? Cuz he was "just an umpire"? who only worked in the Majors for 5 years? (bullshit, I say)

I remember watching Emmett Ashford when I was just a spongy pubescent kid in the late 60's. He was great. Let me say that again, he was great. Not because he was a good umpire or the first black man umpiring in the Major Leagues, ( I had my fill of racism every night on the evening news with riots and water hoses and snarling German Shepherds) but Emmett Ashford was a throughly entertaining umpire to watch. He put flair and pizzazz into the otherwise Black and White performance of Major League Umpiring. You could say he singlehandedly put a rainbow of color into my B+W television set every time he appeared during a Yankee game on WPIX Channel 11. Indeed, we kids often imitated him in the schoolyards as much as we imitated The Mick, or Say Hey or even The Scooter or "Huh-Ho" Bob Murphy on the airwaves.

In a nutshell (my favorite place to be)....watching Emmett Ashford call balls and strikes or work the bases during a game was like watching Joe Cocker warmup for a Mixed Martial Arts demonstration.

I wonder if Emmett ever knew how much of an icon he was to kids of all races and colors in the 60's?

Emmett Ashford may not have been the best, nor even nearly the best umpire in the Major Leagues during his 5 year stint, (he HAD to retire in 1970, having exceeded that maximum age of 56 for umpiring) but there is no doubt that he was the most fun to watch.

But that's not why Emmett Ashford should be in some kind of Hall of Fame. And I agree that it shouldn't be.

40+ years later I look back and wonder what kind of life he lived chasing the dream of getting from the minors to the majors. Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby and a battalion of Black Baseball Players had it rough, sure, no argument. But at least they ALWAYS had at least one or two or more people rooting for them in the stands and on the streets.

Who roots for an umpire? Everybody HATES the umpire, (KILL the Umpire?) regardless of their color, but moreso I imagine, if you were Emmett Ashford working in small town white America in the 50's.

Every umpire has probably feared for his safety on more than one occasion. But I gotta wonder if Emmett Ashford had to do that on a daily basis.

And for that reason alone, Emmett deserves some kind of Lifetime Achievement Honor.

And that's just my opinion.


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