Even Bragan Likes Him—
Ashford-The Only Ump Who Ever Drew Fans’ Applause
By SCOTT BAILLIE
(United Press Sports Writer)
[April 27, 1953]
Emmett Ashford not only is the first Negro to umpire in organized baseball but probably the only arbiter who ever drew a round of applause—other than sarcastic—merely for dusting off the plate. The stocky, stylish Ashford loves his work and Pacific Coast league fans love to watch him. He has turned the menial chore of sweeping the dish into a ceremony. First he gives home base four or five crisp brushes with the whisk broom then tops it off by giving it a little kick. The crowd cheers.
Ashford calls pitches and makes nerve-wracking decisions in a voice that can be heard in any man’s park. Bobby Bragan, who eats umpires for breakfast, thinks Emmett is one of the most competent to come into the coast league.
The petulant manager of the Hollywood stars ought to know. It was Ashford who sent him home early during an exhibition game against Los Angeles this spring.
The beef started when Ashford, who was plate umpire, ruled that Bob Usher of the Angels was hit by a pitched ball. Bragan stormed out of the dugout claiming the ball had struck Usher’s bat first and should be ruled a foul. Ashford said nothing doing.
“Bobby took off his cap and hurled it all the way up the screen,” Ashford recalls. “Boom! there was nothing I could do except order him out of the game.”
But Bragan wouldn't leave. He assumed a reclining position in front of base umpire Al Mutart, a pose that got him into a national magazine. Then Bragan rushed back toward Ashford.
“Ask Mutart, if the ball hit Usher or not,” Bragan challenged.
“You're out of the game,” Emmett answered.
“I won't go until you check with Mutart,” Bragan thundered. Ashford walked away and Bragan, a Texan, departed.
“Emmett is one of the best umpires we have in the league,” Bragan said later. “'He knows how to make a call and he hustles.”
Ashford built up 15 years seniority as a postal clerk in his native Los Angeles before leaving that comparatively peaceful world to be an umpire in the Southwest International league. That was in 1951. His most hectic night was in El Paso a year later.
A crucial series was starting in the Arizona-Texas league between El Paso and Chihuahua which had three Negroes on the club. Ashford had come into this loop after the Southwest International circuit had blown up in mid season. He arrived unheralded at the El Paso park. There was a gasp when the fans saw a Negro take up his position as plate umpire.
In the very first inning, one of Chihuahua’s Negro players raced from first to third on a single. Ashford had to run from home to third to call the play. It was close but the man was safe.
“Even before I got my arms out to make the signal everybody in the park let go,” Ashford grins. “I got what Jackie Robinson got when he first broke in—double in spades.”
As the game progressed, Ashford noticed that the ball park’s police corps had increased from about two men to a dozen. But El Paso won the game, 6-5. And when he umpired the final series of the year there later, he was given standing ovation by the crowd.
Ashford moved up to the class A Western International league last year and hopes that after two years in triple A baseball he might rate a shot at the majors.