Perry Lee Barber: The Woman Behind the Umpire Mask – By Kelsey J. Koenen – October 21, 2008 – womenspsortsfoundation.org
One of the first female umpires in baseball history shares her story about finding what made her passionate and what her hopes are for the women who follow in her footsteps.
University of Michigan head coach and Mets manager meet at home plate during a February spring training game with the first all-woman umpiring crew: Perry Lee Barber, Ila Valcarcel, Theresa Fairlady and Mona Osborne.
Perry Lee Barber’s path to professional sports didn’t start with childhood dreams. At age 27 she was thrown a curveball. The path it led her down, while unexpected, is one completely submerged in a love for the game. Over the past quarter century, Barber’s work as a professional baseball umpire has blazed a trail for women umpires and begun to chip away at one of the last sports careers presumed to be reserved for men…
After writing the post on Elaine Weddington, Perry Barber commented and sent me a long email thanking me for addressing the issue of women in baseball. Like most of you, I didn’t know who she was, but I guess, that exemplifies the lack of women in baseball and the lack of knowledge about those in baseball. Anyway, Perry Barber is an umpire that has worked baseball games from the littlest of little leagues to Grapefruit games. Not many women have been a part of baseball history, so I started asking her some questions and decided to make it more of an interview. She graciously accepted. Not only did she accept, but she sent me back such excellent (and very long) answers to about 10 questions that I will split it up into about 4 parts to make it easier to digest. Therefore, come back every day this week to learn more about this remarkable woman. Before we get on to the questions, I would like to thank Perry for taking the time to answer the questions and tell us about herself, baseball, and umpiring in baseball. For more on Perry Barber, go to her website and her blog.
1) Where did you get your passion for baseball?
From books! I’m an inveterate trivia aficionada and former Jeopardy! Champion (talk about Way Back and Gone – I was a champ back in the dark ages, in 1972 when I was still a teenager, on the original version with Art Fleming as the host and Don Pardo as the announcer) and became determined to beat my friend Barry Bell at baseball trivia. That was the sole, driving force behind my decision to educate myself about baseball, and for an entire year (1979 – ’80) all I did was read books about it. I could hold my own at rock ‘n roll trivia, but when it came to baseball I was at sea. (Barry, by the way, was working in the mailroom at William Morris, one of the big New York booking agencies back then. He graduated to and has been Bruce Springsteen’s booking agent for the last thirty years.) So I read and read and read, and from the first book about baseball I read (a collection of Ring Lardner short stories, You Know Me Al), I was hooked. It was like falling in love at first sight, and my love affair with baseball has long outlasted any of my other romances! The first five books that changed my life were: You Know Me Al (Ring Lardner); Five Seasons by Roger Angell; Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinov; A False Spring by Pat Jordan; and The Men in Blue: Conversations with Umpires by Larry Gerlach. During that first year, I studied baseball as if it were a subject you learn in school, and never went to an actual game. I could tell you who was on third when Fred Merkle didn’t touch second at the Polo Grounds on September 23rd, 1908 (Moose McCormick,) but I couldn’t tell you why the third baseman would throw to first with a runner on third and two outs rather than trying to get the out on the baserunner. I didn’t know what a force play was…