African American umpires like all umpires, in general, are often overlooked or forgotten by the coaches and fans unless there’s a perceived wrong call during a game. Those African American umpires face this reality with the same tenacity as all other umpires, especially college baseball umpires. Let’s look at some of those black umpires who had a significant impact on integrating the ranks of college baseball umpires.
One such early integrator was C.J. Mitchell from the Columbia Basin of the state of Washington. Mitchell rose to become the first black college umpire in the Pacific 8 Conference (now known as the Pac-12 Conference). Mitchell’s experience as a baseball umpire included 35 years as a conference umpire, a six time NCAA Regional umpire, a ten time NAIA World Series umpire, and a four time NCAA Division I World Series umpire, as well as a six time American Legion World Series baseball umpire. C. J. Mitchell was also an umpire for the 1984 and 1988 United States Olympic Baseball Team. Mitchell umpired during the 1976 and 1977 College World Series and those in 1980 and 1981 in. It is widely concluded that C.J. Mitchell was the first black umpire to work the College World Series. Longtime and highly regarded college umpires, Dick Runchey and Rich Fetchiet, worked games with Mitchell offered glowing reflections of C.J.’s time at the CWS.
Mitchel was born in Kildare, TX and after graduation where he as class valedictorian from Perfection High School in Kildare, Texas at the age of sixteen in 1947, CJ moved to the state of Washington where he resided until his death in 2016.
In the state of Washington, Mitchell has been honored by several organizations and halls of fame for his efforts and contributions to his avocation of umpiring baseball. In 2001, Mitchell was inducted into the Amateur Baseball Umpires Association Hall of Fame as a NCAA baseball umpire. Most notably, Mitchell was the first baseball umpire inducted into the Washington State High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, 1999. This award is now named in his honor. Mitchell was also a 2005 founder of the Central Washington Sports Hall of Fame.
The College World Series didn’t stop with CJ Mitchell. Four more African American umpires have served at college baseball’s grand June event in Omaha. Let’s take a moment to recognize the succeeding men who went on to serve college baseball in Omaha in the order of their appearance.
C.J. Mitchell – 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981
Linzy Sumpter – 1982
Al Davis – 1992, 1997, 2000, 2003
Randy Harvey – 2006
Greg Street – 2013, 2017
Troy Fullwood – 2017
Troy Fullwood, one of the 2017 CWS umpires is a rising star in the college baseball umpire fraternity. Fullwood lives in Isle of Wight County, VA with his wife and boys. Fullwood Last fall, he was named the new Atlantic Coast Conference Coordinator of Umpires. This new position also gives Fullwood the distinction as the first African American coordinator of umpires for a Power 5 conference in any sport. As Fullwood prepared for the 2017 CWS he recounted several times in local press that his opportunity was a “blessing’ especially for the fact that he learned how to umpire from his father in the 1990s. The Black College Legends and Pioneers Committee of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame Foundation wishes the best for Troy as he embarks onto this new venture that allows him to stay in this game that we all love.
In addition to C.J. Mitchell, an integrator of the Pacific 8 Conference in the early 1970s, Linzy Sumpter integrated the Big 8 Conference (now known as the Big 12 Conference), also in the early 1970s. In the spring of 1989, Jacob Robinson and Dr. John Winters integrated the old Southwest Conference (SWC). The SWC was dissolved in 1996 with a number of member schools joining what is now the Big 12 Conference. Further research has been launched with other conferences and sources across the nation to identify the early integrators for current and other past conferences. If you can assist this effort, please contact Dr. Winters from the information listed below.
John Winters, PhD, is a member of the Black College Baseball Pioneers and Legends Committee of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame Foundation and an associate professor for sport and recreation management at Bacone College, Muskogee, Oklahoma. Dr. Winters can be reached at [email protected].