At the fourth annual SABR/IWBC Women in Baseball Conference on September 18, 2022, an Umpires Panel was held with Perry Barber, Sophiyah Liu, and Alessia Cicconi.
Perry Barber is a longtime professional umpire, author, and promoter of women in baseball. She was the inaugural winner of the SABR Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 and was recently inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame. Sophiyah Liu is the first Taiwanese woman to become an international baseball umpire. She is a keen baseball fan with a background in social work and religious studies who has worked as an interpreter for the New York Yankees and the Australian national team. Alessia Cicconi is an umpire from Italy.
- Video: Click here to watch a replay of the 2022 SABR/IWBC Women in Baseball Conference Umpires Panel (YouTube)
Here are some highlights:
On how umpiring has changed her personality
- Barber: “I have to admit, I was not the gregarious, outgoing person I am now before I started umpiring. I joke that I was actually kind of shy and retiring. I wasn’t aggressively spreading a message or proselytizing or sharing my passions with anybody, and umpiring allowed me to bring that part of myself out, and to be happy and proud about it. And I get that from [the other panelists] and from every woman I’ve ever worked with — that umpiring instills a kind of confidence in us that may have been there before, but we didn’t know how to utilize it. Umpiring has given us ways to learn how to utilize what was always within us. And that’s so important for women to be able to do that, to successfully navigate things that happen on the ball field as well as things that happen in our relationships and our daily lives with our relatives and our friends. So I’ve always felt that umpiring can have a very beneficial effect in all those areas. It’s not just being able to tell a ball from a strike on the diamond but being able to figure out in your mind how to process things that aren’t that easy to process, or unpleasantness, or when people are upset all around you, or when things become chaotic. We are the center of serenity in those settings.”
On baseball culture in Taiwan
- Liu: “Baseball is the most popular sport in Taiwan. We have a professional league, so almost everyone knows something about baseball, and we are proud that our kids play baseball. But most of the time we’re talking about boys. When I was very little my father took me to a ballgame, so I became a baseball fan. … When we would go to play at tournaments, the umpires sucked, and I would be yelling at them. I thought I could do much better so then I chose to become a baseball umpire.”
On the differences between the Italian and American college sports systems
- Cicconi: “In Italy … the world of sports and the world of school at university are completely separated. It means that you do not have scholarships … it doesn’t exist in Italy. I had the chance to live in the United States and I saw that you have a scholarship for talented athletes to be at university. But in Italy the careers are separated, so if you are a good athlete you need to make a lot of sacrifices to achieve sports achievements and also academic achievement. We don’t have scholarships for talented people in sports. This is the reason I’m really surprised every time Italian athletes achieve — when, I don’t know, maybe they become world champions in some sport.”
On the qualities that make a good umpire
- Cicconi: “I was the home-plate umpire in the final game [of the European qualifier], and you can see I was the littlest one on the field. Even if you are little, you can still be a good umpire. But you need to know your strength and your weaknesses, of course. So I based my umpiring in a strong knowledge of rules. This is very important — if players and coaches can rely on you … then you can umpire with serenity. Also physical training, so I’m trained and plan to focus on games, and good communication is important — the way you communicate with players and coaches and colleagues too, because colleagues are not always happy when you are the home-plate umpire in the final, as the only woman in the umpiring crew. So you need to demonstrate that you are there because you deserve to be in this position.”
On learning lessons from sports
- Liu: “In Taiwan, they would always tell me, ‘You’re not special. Everyone is an umpire so you’re not special.’ But when I went to America … they told me that the value of sports is not only the gold medal, it’s not only about winning or losing, it’s about how to make a person be a better one. And especially for women, sports can make us more confident and also develop our leadership. I was a social worker, and I was a manager of a food bank in Taiwan at that time. So I really know that’s how sports had an effect on me (and) I want to do the same thing for other girls. Then I founded my own NGO (non-government organization) — two of them — the Taiwan Women Sports Association to advocate for women’s rights in sports, and also the Sport Forward Association, which is helping the disabled and women that are underprivileged.”
On the impact of Title IX on women’s sports
- Barber: “The impact of Title IX can’t be overestimated. It has astronomically increased the number of women participating in sports at every level, including professional. The movement to get amateur sports in college and high school more accepting and embracing of women, in providing not just opportunities but facilities and uniforms — you know, basic needs — to start a women’s sports movement that could survive and thrive. It took a lot of hard work from a lot of unknown people.”
Transcription assistance by Emma Yanai.
For more coverage of the 2022 SABR/IWBC Women in Baseball Conference, visit SABR.org/women-in-baseball-conference.
Originally published: September 26, 2022. Last Updated: September 23, 2022.