Perry Barber Interview (The Meat: Part 1)

Wright would hit this one out of the park. I want to see that from Perry’s point of view here.

On to the second installment of the interview. The first day was just a warm-up to get to know Perry, but today, we start to get into what makes her tick. The issue of gender and gender discrimination is a difficult one for our society. As you have seen/will see, I try to stay away from throwing out too many opinions on such issues. This is mostly because I don’t want to talk about (for instance) being a woman in baseball because I am neither a woman (the last time I checked) or in baseball (unfortunately), so I have nothing to really add. I’d rather tell you what happened and let you decide/debate whether it’s right or wrong. Perry Barber, however, has experienced life as a woman in a man’s world, and in today’s part of the interview, she begins to tell us about those experiences.

4) What is the best part about being a woman in baseball?

Forget the “woman in baseball” part – I’m living the dream just being “in baseball.” I never forget how lucky I am to be able to devote myself to umpiring rather than worrying about making a living, having the freedom (no kids, no spouse, not even a cat right now) to do what I do, and to come down to Florida in the winter and travel all over the world just having fun and making friends. Yes, umpires do have friends! (And they all think we can get them tickets to Yankee Stadium at a moment’s notice, for some strange reason.)

5) What is the worst part?

Expecting people to understand that a nine-inning baseball game is not always a tidy two-hour affair, and that plans I’ve made may have to be postponed or canceled because a doubleheader goes seven-and-a-half hours instead of the expected five. Rain can change everything (for days at a stretch – teams have to get those make-ups in!) and I’ve learned to be flexible, but it’s tough on people I make plans with who have a certain expectation of actually seeing me when we’ve made previous arrangements. This used to drive my ex-husband crazy, one of the reasons he’s my ex. Other than that, and the decidedly miniscule pay scales for non-major league amateur umpires (we get a per-game fee rather than a salary for college, high school, and adult league games,) there isn’t much of a downside for me. If you’re looking for an answer such as “the way I’m treated by my partners and supervisors,” I can’t help you! Although there’s usually at least one neanderthal, throw-back asshole in any milieu, for the most part I’ve been met with support and partnership by most of the umpires I’ve ever worked with, and been able to overcome most of the disdain and disbelief with which I may have been viewed initially as soon as I actually worked a game and changed a few minds. Another “worst part” is the growing frustration and impatience I feel with baseball’s totally inadequate response to the advent of women umpires in the last thirty-seven years. We are not recruited, trained, or promoted the same way the guys are, and this is completely due to the inertia and lack of care (as in, they don’t give a shit) of the men in positions to promote and nurture umpires’ careers. Also, a total lack of understanding on their part that the paradigm has to change, that they have to make an actual effort to find, train, evaluate, and mentor women as energetically as they do the guys. Instead, there is still this absurd, unarticulated resistance to the idea that a woman is as capable or durable as a man behind the plate and on the bases, and so our numbers have stagnated rather than grown. I touched on this issue the first time I wrote you after your post about Elaine Weddington of the Boston Red Sox. I said: Merely making a show of welcoming women’s participation is not enough; baseball cannot claim to truly embrace the idea of women as equals without taking active steps to encourage them to join the party. Simply saying “Look, we don’t discriminate – [we’ve had SIX women umpires (in the whole history of organized baseball since 1846)]!” cannot camouflage baseball’s ingrained indifference to real equality, which was won as slowly by and for blacks and hispanics as it eventually will be by and for women. In baseball, change comes sluggishly and incrementally Thirty-seven years is too damn long. I’m tired of waiting for things to change, and I’m tired of being polite about waiting and hoping they will. They aren’t and they won’t, so I’m turning cheerfully subversive activist to make sure it happens before I die.

6) How are or are you perceived/treated any differently by the fans/coaches/other umpires than your male counterparts?

By coaches and fans, initially, probably a lot differently. Can you imagine – I’ve been doing this for twenty-nine years, and I still get “Wow! You’re my first female umpire!” all the time. (Or sometimes, “Oh shit, you’re my first female umpire.” Seriously.) Being petite and looking like butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth doesn’t exactly imbue me with machismo either, but I walk onto every field trying to project that I own the place and know exactly what I’m doing. First impressions really are half the battle in umpiring, especially for me, so I insist on clean, pressed uniforms that fit (I have to alter all my shirts, cut off the arms and the sides, then sew them back together, and used to have to find grey pants in the boys’ department of JC Penney,) shined shoes, and a business-like attitude. I like crisp, to-the-point home plate meetings, and no-nonsense management of a game while it’s in progress, with a minimum of interruptions and ejections. I regard my role as that of facilitator, not dictator. I become the conduit through which all things baseball flow, and my game management skills (of which calling balls and strikes, safes and outs, fairs and fouls, are but a fraction) are a critical and largely unsung part of what I and every other umpire does out there.

By other umpires: hmmm. Like I said, there’s always one asshole in every crowd, and I know there are some who would prefer not to work with me, not because I am incompetent, but either because they regard me as a threat (meaning, my work ethic and expertise would highlight their own lack of hustle and skill) or because they perceive being partnered with me as a diminishment of their own status. An inconvenience to be tolerated, because to do otherwise would be sooo politically incorrect. Peculiar. Only three weeks ago during the Big Ten/Big East tournament I assigned down here, an umpire I’ve worked with for ten years who would die for me told me he was at the urinal with a couple of other umpires and heard them saying “Geez, how’d you like to have to work with those broads?” (I hired another woman to work the tournament with me – I LIKE offering other women opportunities I had to fight for.) Clearly contemptuous of our participation, as if we were there just to cause trouble and embarrass them. I’ll never understand that attitude in a million years, but I regard such deficiencies as other people’s problem, not mine. I always hope for total acceptance, and more often than not, wind up getting it (or something close.) Even from the skeptics.

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One Response to “Perry Barber Interview (The Meat: Part 1)”

  1. lar Says:

    This is good stuff, Mark. It helps, of course, to have someone so willing to talk and tell her story. It’s a great story, and it’s nice to see it being told. Great work. I’ll definitely be looking out for the rest of the series.

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