On this day in 1966, the first black umpire made his debut, nearly 19 years to the day after Jackie Robinson made his playing debut. Emmett Ashford umpired third base in the Cleveland Indians vs. Washington Senators Opening Day game at RFK Stadium. Cleveland would defeat Washington, 5-2 before 44,468. Boxscore – Baseball Reference. D.C. Baseball History has more about that game.
The SABR History Project feature on Ashford recalled his first game:
Emmett Ashford’s regular season debut took place on April 9, 1966, in Washington’s D .C. Stadium, the traditional American League opener. His first major league hurdle was getting into the ballpark. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was in attendance to throw out the ceremonial first ball, and the secret service needed to be convinced that a black man was there to umpire the game. Humphrey later kidded Ashford, who had worked at third base, that he hadn’t had any plays to call. “No plays, no boots,” responded Ashford, “but it was the greatest day of my life.” Joe Cronin told his new employee, “Emmett, you made history today. I’m proud of you.”
Ashford’s first home plate assignment came on April 17, 1966 in New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles game (Baseball Reference Boxscore) at Memorial Stadium.
Ashford had been an umpire in the Pacific Coast League for many years and was 51 when his contract was bought out by the American League. From the L.A. Times article Emmett Ashford made history; will he make Hall of Fame?:
Ashford’s dream was to be a major league umpire, a commitment he made when he heard Branch Rickey had signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. But first Ashford had to break the minor league color barrier for umpires, which he did.
There was no mistaking Ashford had style — French cuffs, gleaming cuff links and shoes buffed to a pristine shine. And he always brought a typewriter with him on the road so he could answer fan mail. He signed autographs before and after games.
Ashford stayed on one year past the suggested retirement age, ending his career after the 1970 World Series.