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Emmett Ashford's Umpire Equipment and Document Archive - First African-American Umpire in Major League Baseball!
Starting Bid - $300, Sold For - $1,175
While everyone is well aware of both Jackie Robinson's and Larry Doby's historic achievements in breaking baseball's color barrier in 1947, few are familiar with another of the game's pioneers with regard to racial equality: Emmett Ashford. In 1966, a full nineteen years after integration in Major League Baseball took place, Ashford, who was fifty-one years old at the time, finally broke another of the game's long-standing color barriers when he became the first African-American umpire in the Major Leagues. Like Jackie Robinson before him, overcoming racial barriers was nothing new for Ashford. Fifteen years earlier, in much less tolerant times, he became the first African-American umpire in organized baseball when he was hired by the Class C Southwest International League. Umpires, by the very nature of their position, have never elicited much sympathy or support among fans, so one can only imagine the hardships Ashford faced as he made his arduous climb to the Majors. Although Ashford's Major League career was brief (umpires faced a mandatory retirement age of fifty-five) it proved to be revolutionary. Prior to Ashford's arrival, Major League umpires were content to remain in the background of the action, where they served as faceless, unemotional arbiters of the sport. Ashford changed all that. Taking the field wearing flashy jewelry, Ashford made himself the center of attention by means of a flamboyant style. While Ashford's exaggerated gestures and calls bothered many of the old timers, his antics made him an instant fan favorite and he clearly influenced the next generation of umpires (most notably Ron Luciano), nearly all of whom sought to distinguish themselves with an individualized style. Despite his iconoclastic nature, he was by all accounts an outstanding umpire, and after his career he was highly sought after as an instructor and guest speaker at umpiring clinics. Fittingly, Ashford's final Major League assignment was the 1970 World Series. Following his Major League career he was employed by Major League baseball as a goodwill ambassador, serving as Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's West Coast public-relations representative. During that time he continued to umpire at the college level and in the Dominican Republic and was a favorite on the banquet circuit. Ashford passed away in 1980 and his ashes today are buried in a cemetery just one mile away from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
This incredible collection of material is comprised of both Emmett Ashford's umpire equipment and hundreds of letters and documents dating to his retirement years when he was employed by the Commissioner's office. The highlight, of course, is the umpire's gear. While we have no way of knowing if this equipment was worn during Ashford's Major League career or afterwards, a few of the pieces clearly relate to his later years as an instructor. The equipment is comprised of the following: 1) Black outer umpire's chest protector bearing a "Logan" manufacturer's tag. 2) Blue inner umpire's chest protector (MacGregor model "G290). The right shoulder guard is detached. 3) Pair of blue Rawlings shin guards (model "POU"), each of which has the name "Ash" written on the reverse in vintage green ink. 4) Pair of blue Rawlings shin guards (model "IU"). 5) Pair of Rawlings navy shin guards (model "POU"). These shin guards are clearly the oldest of the three pairs included here. 6-7) Two comical umpire props that Ashford obviously used during his instructional clinics. The first is a boxer's headgear that bears a strip of white tape along the top of the front upon which Ashford has written "Use when 'Strike' is the call/And others think it should be Ball." The other piece is the removed thumb portion of a boxing glove bearing a piece of white tape upon which Ashford has written "One X-X-X Large Thumb/For 'Thumbing Out' Unruly Participants." All of the equipment displays heavy wear, indicating years of former use.
While only the one pair of shin guards bears Ashford's name on them, the provenance for the equipment is the voluminous cache of Emmett Ashford personal documents that came with it. Comprised mainly of letters to Ashford, the collection, which numbers in the hundreds, does feature two Ashford signed pieces. One is Ashford's personally written press release announcing his formal retirement from umpiring in 1971. The one-page document is simply signed "Ash" at the bottom in blue ink (grading "10"). The second item, signed "Emmett Ashford" in blue ink ("10"), is a credit-card slip, dated "6 72." Also featured in the collection are three letters to Ashford personally signed by Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (all grading "10"), all of which are on official Office of the Commissioner letterhead. Included among the remaining documents are numerous letters of correspondence from Major League Baseball relating to his official work for the Commissioner's office, as well as letters from various Major League clubs, Minor League clubs, and Umpire Associations. Fan letters are also represented, as are letters from friends, formal invites to dinners or banquets, and requests for his services as a guest speaker. Additionally, fifteen souvenir mini bats, issued to commemorate various baseball banquets and dinners, are also included. Nearly all of the documents offered here date between the years 1970 and 1972. In Excellent condition overall. Reserve $300. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $1,175
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