This Day in Baseball History: January 13th, 1972

The woman behind the mask. I really wanted to put a Jodie Meeks picture up, but I resisted.

On January 13, 2008:

Jodie Meeks lit up Tennessee and scored 54 points in a 90-72 Kentucky win, setting a school-record held by Dan Issel.

Okay, so that’s not baseball-related, but I just sat and watched a man possessed. Just shot it from wherever, whenever. Simply amazing. Anyway, back to baseball.

On January 13, 1972:

Bernice Gera won her civil rights lawsuit and would become the first female umpire in professional baseball.

After completing an umpire training school, Gera signed a contract to umpire in the New York-Penn League, a single A league. However, six days later, her contract was voided for no apparent reason, and on March 15, 1971, she filed a lawsuit citing a civil rights violation, believing her contract was voided because she was a woman. On January 13, 1972, she won her court case and was put on the official schedule.

June 24th was her first and only day on the job. In a game between the Geneva Senators and Auburn Phillies, she was involved in a controversial play. A grounder was hit and the defense tried to turn two. Initially, she called the runner safe but reversed her call. The Auburn manager (Auburn was hitting) came out to argue and supposedly said, “[her] first mistake was putting on an umpire’s uniform and that she should have been in the kitchen, peeling potatoes.” Obviously inappropriate, he was ejected from the game.

Gera, however, received the worst of it and retired. When asked why she quit after one game, she responded, “I could beat them in the courts, but I can’t beat them on the field”, referring to the fact that none of her male umpires cooperated with her on the field. She felt that she would never be respected on the field, and she, understandably, could not suffer that again.

Her uniform and pink whiskbroom are now in the Hall of Fame Museum.

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2 Responses to “This Day in Baseball History: January 13th, 1972”

  1. Perry Says:

    Bernice Gera, and before her, Amanda Clement, who umpired for pay prior to the turn of the twentieth century during pro baseball’s infancy. Christine Wren. Pam Postema. Theresa Cox Fairlady. Ria Cortesio. Shanna Kook. In the entire hundred forty-year history of professional baseball in this country, only these seven women have been “allowed” by its male hierarchy to umpire, and this has much less to do with a lack of desire on the part of women umpire candidates than it does with the neanderthal mindset of the men who run the pro umpiring programs. In the thirty-six years since Gera won her suit, a grand total of SIX women have earned the right to stand beside their male partners on a professional baseball field. Even in amateur baseball, women umpires are still few and far between. There is no reason for this other than the recalcitrance of the men in positions to change this (recruiters, assignors, supervisors) who are still actively resistant to the idea of women in charge of a baseball game. Women are not being recruited, trained, and viewed as promising candidates for promotion into the ranks of pro umpires; this is a failure on the part of the umpire schools, out of whose classes all pro umpires now come, and of the Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation (PBUC,) which still refuses to recognize women as equals on the field even while its supervisors hide behind the shield of non-discrimination because they put one woman at a time out there about every five or six years, hang them out to dry with no support system within the pro umpiring infrastructure and no recourse beyond its own circumscribed conventions, then get rid of each of them as soon as they have served their purpose. This insidious method of camouflaging their own reluctance to accept women as equals on the field is the standard modus operandi for the men who could change things but still refuse to do so. In baseball, change comes sluggishly and incrementally, and in the case of women umpires, kicking and screaming. Thank you, Mark Louis Smith, for shining a light on this pathetic state of affairs, and for remembering Bernice, whose courage and perseverance resulted in the elimination of the height and weight restrictions that, until she filed suit, had prevented women – and a lot of men, too! – from joining the ranks of pro umpires. We all owe her a debt of thanks.

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I always wondered why there were no female umpires, but I guess I always assumed they umpired softball instead. This blog is as much about my education as everyone else’s, and I’m glad you liked the post.

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