NEW YORK, N.Y. – Kerwin Danley became the first African American umpire crew chief in Major League Baseball when a series of promotions, additions and retirements were announced Thursday.
“I think it’s a significant moment in the history of baseball,” Danley told The Associated Press from Arizona, where he’s working spring training games.
“I’m very honored, very excited to be the first,” he said. “But it’s not just about me. It’s much more than that. It shows African American kids there is something else they can make it in, besides playing.”
The timing of the promotion was extra special to Danley because it came during Black History Month.
“I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and texts on that. People have noticed,” he said.
Other moves included Alfonso Marquez being elevated to the first Hispanic crew chief born outside the United States, and second overall in MLB history.
Another meaningful move for diversity, Danley said.
“Of course it is,” he said.
Crew chiefs Jeff Kellogg, Dana DeMuth, Gary Cederstrom and Mike Everitt have retired. Kellogg and Everitt will move into jobs as MLB umpire supervisors.
Dan Iassogna and Jim Reynolds were promoted to crew chiefs.
Ramon De Jesus, who worked his first big league game in 2016 as a minor league fill-in, moved up and became the first Dominican-born umpire on the MLB staff. Also getting full-time jobs in the majors were Ryan Blakney, Chris Segal and Jansen Visconti.
Nic Lentz also joined the MLB umpire roster, replacing the late Eric Cooper.
A chief oversees each four-man crew. Among other things, they often have the last word on disputes with players, make the call for an umpire replay review or decide when to bring out the tarp for a rain delay.
The 58-year-old Danley has worked two World Series and 10 other postseason rounds, along with two All-Star Games. He called his first game in the majors in 1992 and was hired to the MLB staff in 1998.
Danley played college ball at San Diego State and was a first-team All-America outfielder in 1983 when he batted .399. His teammates with the Aztecs included future Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn — Danley’s roommate — and current Colorado manager Bud Black. In a neat coincidence, Danley was the first base umpire when Gwynn got his 3,000th hit during a 1999 game in Montreal and gave his former teammate a hug by the bag.
Danley began his umpiring career in 1985 in the Northwest League, and kept working his way up through the minors. He is known for having an even temperament, always an attractive quality when MLB picks its crew chiefs. He has totaled just four ejections in the past five seasons, according to retrosheet.org.
He also was an instructor at the first umpire camp at MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California.
“When kids see me out there, they know it can be done,” Danley said. “That’s the proof in the pudding. If you can’t see it or touch it, you don’t know it.”
There have been about 10 full-time African American umpires in the majors since Emmett Ashford ascended to become the first in 1966. There have been several blacks in MLB umpire leadership positions, including Peter Woodfork, senior vice president of baseball operations, supervisor Cris Jones and the late Chuck Meriwether, a longtime big league umpire who became a supervisor.
The 47-year-old Marquez joins former ump Richie Garcia, who was born in Florida, as Hispanic crew chiefs. Marquez was the first Mexican-born umpire to work in the majors, starting in 1999.
Marquez has worked three World Series, 15 other postseason rounds and two All-Star Games.
DeMuth was a major league umpire for 36 years and called five World Series. Kellogg also earned five World Series assignments while spending more than 27 years on the staff.
Cederstrom was at second base for Game 7 of the World Series last year, the fourth time he worked the Fall Classic over 26 years. Everitt was an MLB umpire for 21 years and had three World Series assignments.