Did you know…
Randy Johnson was not the tallest player in big-league history: Jon Rauch, also a pitcher, stood 6’11” tall . . .
Jesse Orosco was the personification of a workhorse, with a record 1,252 appearances in 24 years, with nine different teams . . .
When Virgil Trucks of the Tigers went 5-19 in 1952, two of his wins were no-hitters . .
Mike Marshall holds single-season marks for games pitched in both leagues . . .
John Smoltz was the only pitcher with 200 career wins and 150 career saves.
Remembering Emmett Ashford, First Black Umpire
By Andrew Sharp
Emmett Ashford had trouble getting into D.C. Stadium on April 11, 1966, to become the first Black umpire in the Major Leagues. A Secret Service detail protecting Vice President Hubert Humphrey, there to throw out opening day’s first pitch, stopped Ashford under the grandstands as he entered the stadium.
“Listen, there are no Negro umpires in the Major Leagues,” one doubting agent told the would-be rookie arbiter. “Well, there will be a Negro umpire in the American League, if you will let me into the park,” Ashford replied. After 10 minutes of checking his identification, the agents let Ashford go on his way.
Ashford, a veteran AAA umpire, was hired by the A.L. for the 1966 season on September 10, 1965, when his contract was purchased from the Pacific Coast League. He had begun umpiring in 1951 in the Southwestern International League and then the Arizona-Texas League. He spent 12 years in the PCL, the last three as the umpire-in-chief. He had become a fan favorite, which to some was a reason – in addition to his race -- he had not been moved up to the majors.
Noted for his demonstrative calls and animated style, Ashford told The Sporting News during 1966 spring training: “I guess you can say I’m colorful. I’m colorful in two ways…. Everybody says that baseball needs more color, and nobody can fill the bill like I can.”
Mark Armour, the founder of SABR’s BioProject, wrote the biographical essay on Ashford’s life, which I would highly recommend at sabr.org for those who want more I write here.
The 51-year-old Ashford worked third base in Cleveland’s 5-2 victory at what was then D.C. Stadium. “I’ve got butterflies,” he told Bob Addie of the Washington Post that morning. After the game, the vice president was among those who congratulated Ashford.
“Emmett, you didn’t have a chance to miss one today,” Humphrey said. “No plays, no boots … but it was the greatest day of my life,” Ashford responded. Later, he told sportswriters that finally making the majors “was just wonderful. The players came up and shook my hand.” Senators’ manager Gil Hodges, a longtime teammate of Jackie Robinson, wished him luck.
The opening day crowd was 44,468, a record at the time for a Senators’ opener. The only safe-or-out call Ashford had to make was when Vic Davalillo slid into third base far ahead of a throw.
Frank Howard, who throughout his career had great success against Cleveland starter Sam McDowell, blasted a line-drive homer in the sixth inning that hit the foul pole. The force of the hit left an impression on Ashford.
“I learned (that) when Mr. Howard comes to bat, third base is not the healthiest spot.” Ashford said. “The way he swings, if the breeze doesn’t get you, his ball might put a hole right through you.”
The Post ran a photo the next day of Ashford and fellow ump Bob Stewart, taken before the game. Stewart handled first base. Johns Stevens was the home-plate umpire and Bill Haller was at second. After the game, “Bill gave me an opening-game ball with their signatures,” Ashford told the Sporting News. “I’ll keep it always.”
“Emmett, today you made history,” Joe Cronin, the A.L. president who attended the game, told the rookie umpire. Cronin, Ashford conceded, “had bucked certain odds to give me the chance…. Somebody had to break in, and I’m proud it was me.
“Mr. Cronin said when he hired me, “Emmett, be yourself. Don’t change,” Ashford told reporters in response to critics who called him a showboat. “I just want to be thought of and judged as another rookie umpire…. And I’ll say that a sense of humor has made life easier for me.”
Ashford eventually worked the 1967 All-Star Game and 1970 World Series. He was scheduled to be behind the plate for Game 6, but the Orioles won the series in Game 5. Ashford was allowed to work a season beyond the league’s mandatory retirement age of 55, but he called it quits after the 1970 season.
After retiring from umpiring, he worked for the commissioner’s office and was frequently seen on screen, with a part in the film The Bingo Long Traveling Al-Stars & Motor Kings and appearances on TV in Ironside and The Jacksons. In 1966, he had been a guest on What’s My Line?
Emmett Ashford died of a heart attack at 65 in Marina del Ray, Califronia, on March 1, 1980. Although his body was cremated, his wife sent his ashes to Cooperstown, N.Y., where he is the only significant figure in baseball history whose remains are interred near the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
In 2009, Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, wrote to the Hall of Fame’s board of directors advocating for Ashford’s inclusion on a future veterans committee ballot. However, that has yet to happen.
Andrew Sharp is a retired journalist and a SABR member who blogs about D.C. baseball at washingtonbaseballhistory.com
Trades, Signings, Arbitration Hearings Spike Up Spring Training
By Dan Schlossberg
Spring training is usually a time for veterans to round into shape, rookies to make an impression, and aging athletes to impress enough for one last payday.
But not this year.
Thanks to the 99-day lockout that unleashed nuclear winter on the sport, the 2022 spring training landscape will have all the earmarks of Grand Central Station at rush hour.
As in 1995, when the 232-day player strike lasted well into the spring, salary arbitration hearings will be conducted at the same time as exhibition games.
But so will trades and signings — especially with nearly 300 unemployed players hoping to hook up with any team that wants them.
Many will have to settle for smaller salaries than they or their agents anticipated. Some won’t get any offers at all. Others might even need to ink minor-league contracts.
We’re not talking Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, or Trevor Story here but many surprises await. That’s a guarantee.
With spring camps opening, free agents want to find teams fast, renew acquaintances with old teammates, or form friendships with new ones.
It would help enormously if everybody didn’t know what everyone else was making.
No other business in America makes the mistake of letting salary information leak. It’s human nature that jealousy can be a destructive element in any work force.
“If he’s making $100,000, I’m worth $200,000,” or so the thinking goes.
That’s exactly what Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr wanted from the start, of course — the big-market owners stumbling all over themselves to outbid all the other clubs.
At least the Competitive Balance Tax survives, preserving a modicum of parity, while the owners cope with an enormous, unnecessary, and unwarranted jump in the minimum salary (we’re talking no experience and six months worth of work).
Baseball has clearly gone from a game to a business but it still needs the support of fans to survive. My gut instinct, after watching all nine work stoppages since 1972, is that it will take a long, long time for fans to forgive and forget — if they do at all.
Dan Schlossberg’s latest book is the 2021 World Championship edition of When the Braves Ruled the Diamond. He covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and more. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Kerry Wood of the Cubs tied the major-league record by fanning 20 Astros in a nine-inning game on May 6, 1998, it was only his fifth start in the majors . . .
Although the Rookie of the Year Award was established in 1947, no Pirate won it until Jason Bay in 2004 . . .
There were no pinch-homers in the World Series before Yogi Berra hit one in 1947 . . .
Lou Brock stole seven bases in both the 1967 and 1968 World Series . . .
When Joe Mauer comes up for Cooperstown consideration in the near future, voters need to remember he was the only catcher to win three batting titles.
If MLB has such an issue with length of game then why are they ok with nationally broadcasted games having an extra 40 seconds of commercial time every half inning?
Former Red Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks [@middlebrooks]
Know Your Editors
HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.