Perry Barber Responds: We Got It Right On Women Umpires

Perry Barber, professional umpire, from, dated February 24, 2010.

We write stuff here. A lot of stuff. Sometime we write about players. Sometimes we write about managers. Sometimes we write about Commissioner Selig. It isn't often when someone we write about writes back.

Yesterday, it happened.

Last week, I wrote a post titled Will Instant Expanded Replay Lead to More Women Umpires? If you haven't read it, you can do so here. In sum, I discussed the difficulties women have faced in becoming professional baseball umpires and moving up in the minor leagues to, ultimately, umpire in a major-league game. None has ever done so.

I suggested that baseball traditionalists were holding women back, just as they had held the line for so long on the use of video review during ballgames. And I argued that as baseball progressives begin to take hold over the traditionalists with expanded instant replay, so too will they open doors for women umpires.

Peter Schiller of the Baseball Reflections blog read the post and passed it along to Perry Barber, one of the handful of women who have umpired in the minors and in major-league exhibition games. Barber penned a response, which Schiller then posted on his blog.

Barber rightly took me to task for the title of the post. "First, the title. Will Instant Expanded Replay Lead to More Women Umpires? More? How about ANY?" Fair enough. I didn't want to minimize the accomplishments of Barber and colleagues who are professional umpires, albeit not in the majors. But she's right.

Barber continues:

I found the article to be excellently researched and presented, particularly by someone who isn't an umpire herself and hasn't experienced firsthand the double whammy we women encounter of having to earn respect from both our peers/partners as well as from spectators and athletic administrators used to viewing umpires in general as enemy aliens rather than allies.

Barber was particularly struck by the quoted portion of the Q&A with MLB umpire Tim McClelland. Recall that McClelland had responded to a question from a woman interested in becoming an umpire: "The thing to do is go to umpire school, try your best, finish in the top ten percent and get put in the minor leagues. It's a long road to haul - I wouldn't want to wish it on a female, because not only do they have the complaints or problems you go through as an umpire, but then they have to deal with working in a male-dominated sport."

Barber was incredulous and she didn't mince words:

McClelland has just encouraged a young woman to go for it . . . and then in the very next sentence he undermines his own ginned-up optimism by immediately laying out one of the world's oldest and more tired canards concerning women and our capabilities: that we are not strong enough either mentally or physically to withstand the rigors of "working in a male-dominated sport." That we are too weak, too frail, too . . . well, unmanly. We're just not up to the task, only a man could possibly handle the physical and psychological weight of an umpiring career.

On the issue of instant replay leading to women umpires in the majors, Barber wrote:

I think the thrust of [the] article points to the fact that replay will open more opportunities for umpires in general and that since the pool of umpiring candidates will necessarily be expanded to meet this growing need, women may have more of a chance to join the ranks of professional umpires. And just to be clear, the way I read it is that she is not implying that the women who may wind up being hired would be relegated to the video booth as opposed to given actual on-field jobs; I don't believe that is her implication.

Correct. That was not my argument, implicit or otherwise.

My point is that expanded instant replay is a victory for baseball progressives over baseball traditionalists and it will lead to changes in other areas of umpiring, including the advancement of women umpires to the major leagues -- on the field. Yes, more instant replay will require more umpires, but I'd expect the video review umpires to be those with the most experience and knowledge of the rules -- the icing on good career. That will open up spots for younger umpires to move up from the minors.

But, more importantly, expanded instant replay will move umpiring away from "doing it the way it's always been done" and toward "getting it right, quickly and fairly." And as umpiring modernizes in this way, we hope the doors open to talented, committed and professional women.

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