De La Cretaz: 100 years after Amanda Clement, baseball still can’t recruit female umpires

From Britni de la Cretaz at Bitch Media on February 13, 2018, with mention of SABR members Perry Barber and Emma Charlesworth-Seiler:

At the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy (MiLB) in Vero Beach, Florida, 99 students stand in rows in the outfield of a ball field. Over a loudspeaker, an instructor yells, “Call it!” In unison, the students respond, “You’re out!” They punch their fists straight ahead, looking more like martial artists than umpires. From behind, it is impossible to tell one from the other—each wears the standard school uniform of a black polo shirt, gray slacks, black cap, black sneakers. But out of the back of one of the ball caps, a long ponytail hangs down a student’s back. Danni Proenza is the lone woman in the 2018 class.

It’s been over 100 years since Amanda Clement umpired semiprofessional baseball games in a full skirt and white blouse embroidered with the letters “UMPS” on the front, with players referring to her as “Miss Umpire.” Bernice Gera, the first female umpire in professional baseball, earned her spot through a sex discrimination lawsuit in 1972, but quit after her first game. Only a handful of women have umpired the predominantly male sport, with the most well-known being Pam Postema, who spent 13 years in the minor leagues. There has never been a woman to umpire at the major-league level. Systemic sexism has affected baseball at all levels, from who can play it to who can coach and call games. Now people are determined to change that. The sport is trying to recruit more women into the field of umpiring—but despite those efforts, it’s not really working.

The job of being a professional baseball umpire is a hard, thankless one. The season is long and grueling. The pay at the minor-league level is low, with umpires in rookie ball making about $2,000 per month and salaries increasing incrementally from there. They get yelled at, day in and day out. And for many prospective umpires, their first experience with the job is working Little League games, where angry parents get in their faces on a regular basis. Plus, people only notice when they make one bad call, not the hundreds of good calls that came before. Yet to work behind the plate, umpires have to be passionate about the job. If they’re good at what they do, they’ll be invisible on the field. They are the glue that holds the game together. They perform a choreographed dance that is both graceful and athletic. “When you watch a major-league baseball game from high up in the stands and you watch the umpires, you can see the choreography, and it’s really beautiful,” says Perry Barber, who has been a baseball umpire for 38 years. “It’s an element that a lot of people never pay attention to that adds this sparkle to a game.”

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Originally published: February 13, 2018. Last Updated: February 13, 2018.