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Behind a mask, Ashford followed Robinson’s path

February 10, 2011

Last week I worked on a fairly lengthy feature for Black History Month about Emmett Ashford, the first black umpire to reach the Major Leagues — people know the story of Jackie Robinson, but consider Ashford, a black man who not only made it in an almost exclusively white baseball universe of the 1950s, but he did so from a position of authority on the field. I’ve done a few of these BHM stories in the last few years, and they are often some of the most difficult and most rewarding stories I end up with.

I had no clue who this man was before starting my research, and in the end, it’s a pretty unique story — check it out.

Anyway, I was pretty flattered today to find a nice note from a fellow sports writer, the highly-respected baseball scribe and longtime [former] ESPN columnist, Rob Neyer:

Over at, Danny Wild’s got a really fantastic piece about Emmett Ashford, the first black umpire in the major leagues. I’m not going to throw an excerpt in here because the whole story really deserves to be read. It does occur to me that with the first 20th Century black player (Jackie Robinson), the first black American Leaguer (Larry Doby), and the first active female owner (Effa Manley) of an important team all in the Hall of Fame, there might eventually be a place for Ashford, too. He might not have been a great umpire — opinions are divided — and you might think umpires shouldn’t be showmen. But he certainly was entertaining, and he certainly was a pioneer.

No greater honor than one from someone like Rob. The feature has created some buzz on Twitter, and I know Mr. Ashford’s daughter has been proudly circulating it among friends. Perhaps it’ll bring his story back to light for the Hall of Fame to reconsider.


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