He Wanted To Go Back To Cooperstown One More Time…And He Did!
I learned a lot during my remote broadcast this morning from the front deck at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
There was a lot of talk about the great names of the past...Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and others. The Hall is where your old baseball cards came to live! But who remembers any of the umpires? Can you name even one?
I guess umpires, literally the judges of each game, are destined for anonymity. But there was one that sure stuck out, and I knew his name as well as I knew the names of my favorite old Dodgers, like Gil Hodges and Don Drysdale and Roy Campanella.
His name was Emmett Ashford.
"Ash" was the first African American umpire to work any major league game. He quickly became famous for his ebullient personality, elegant sartorial splendor and flashy style in calling plays in a game. Older style umps resented Ashford's new dynamic style and originally shunned him. But he rose through the ranks to become one of the most respected and popular umpires to ever work a game.
Emmett Ashford umped from 1966 to 1970. He worked the 1967 All Star game and umped all five games of the 1970 World Series. Sporting News once wrote of his style: "For the first time in the history of the great All American game of baseball, fans my actually buy a ticket just to see an umpire perform."
Ashford left the game at the mandatory retirement age of 55 and died on March 1, 1980 at the age of 60.
One can only imagine that Ashford's last request as he lay dying in a hospital somewhere in Marina del Rey in California may have been to "take him back to Cooperstown."
Not surprisingly, the great Emmett Ashford's remains did come back and were spread over the hallowed grounds of Lake View Cemetery in Cooperstown where his spirit still dances, whirls and hollers "You are OUT!!" to all of his baseball buddies right around the corner in the Hall of Fame.