Women in Black
The 24th annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture reached its midway point with more than 20 varied presentations throughout Thursday. Whether the subject involve Kenesaw Mountain Landis, big league baseball’s first commissioner, the role of public art in baseball parks or the building of Yankee Stadium, attendees had a wide range of topics to choose from.
Co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the three-day symposium examines the impact of baseball on American culture from inter- and multi-disciplinary perspectives.
One of Thursday’s highlights was a late-morning presentation in the Hall’s Learning Center entitled “Women in Black: Pearls of Wisdom from Behind the Plate.” For more than an hour, moderator Jean Hastings Ardell interviewed female umpire Perry Barber. A former singer/songwriter who opened for Bruce Springsteen among others, Barber umpiring journey began at 28 and for the next 32 years has taken her around the world.
“My mother suggested I start umpiring Little League, and at the time she suggested it, it was the very furthest thing from my mind,” Barber said in an interview later. “But the moment I first walked onto a baseball field and encountered this strange new thing of people yelling at me and telling me I was terrible, whereas up until that point in time all I had ever been told was that I was wonderful and people loved me and praised and petted me all the time. So it was a very eye-opening experience but one that for whatever reason did not deter me as much as it made me determined to solve the puzzle of why people were behaving that way.”
Barber’s “very strange and circuitous journey” included attending the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School for a number of years.
“I attended umpire school because I realized people weren’t yelling at me so much because I was a woman as they were because I really lacked any kind of training and experience,” she said.
Barber eventually found umpiring jobs at Florida high schools, Mets fantasy camps, and intra-squad and split-squad spring training games for the Mets, in Japan, and soon will be working in the famed Cop Cod League
“I like to spread the gospel of umpiring and that it’s not all confrontations and hostility and vitriol being spewed at the umpire. That’s a very fleeting part of the overall picture,” she said. “Most of it is very challenging, mentally stimulating, and just incredibly fun. Just really one of the most wonderful, eye-opening experiences that helps me to continually grow as a person.”
Today, Barber’s image can be seen on Museum’s second floor as part of the Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball exhibit.
“There’s a fundamental imbalance in the baseball landscape,” she said. “There’s really no rational reason why there is not a female umpire in the majors. There have been baby steps but for every baby step forward we take two steps back. It’s still a struggle but we are making inroads and perhaps in my lifetime we will see not just one but a couple (female) big league umpires.”
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum