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Last month’s hiring of Sarah Thomas as a National Football League official brings to mind the question of why there has never been a female umpire in the major leagues or Japanese professional baseball.

The National Basketball Association welcomed two women, Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner, as referees in 1997, a full 18 years ago, so when will the MLB or NPB make news by adding a lady to its umpiring roster?

It was in 1989 when Perry Lee Barber, an aspiring umpire, was introduced to Japanese baseball by Kazuo Sayama, a historian of the game. Barber worked two Orix Braves preseason games in the Kansai area; one behind the plate and one at second base.

Braves first baseman Greg “Boomer” Wells played in the games and praised Barber’s performance, saying at the time, “She did a good job. I saw no problems out there.”

Now, 26 years later, Barber has worked thousands of games at various levels in many countries but is disappointed the gender

Braves first baseman Greg “Boomer” Wells played in the games and praised Barber’s performance, saying at the time, “She did a good job. I saw no problems out there.”

Now, 26 years later, Barber has worked thousands of games at various levels in many countries but is disappointed the gender barrier has not been broken on the umpiring staffs of the top leagues in Japan or North America.

Speaking by phone from her home in New York last week, Barber said, “I still believe it will happen, and there are signs things are about to change. The presence of women officials in the NBA and now the NFL is encouraging. The question is: what’s going on with baseball?”

There was a time when it appeared women were getting close to becoming top echelon umpires. The late Bernice Gera and others such as Pam Postema, Ria Cortesio and Barber herself have officiated MLB exhibition games or worked as regular-season umpires in the minor leagues, but none ever appeared on the field for an official AL or NL game.

“Pam made it to Triple-A and Ria to Double-A, but that is light years away from the MLB. There is no short path to the majors,” Barber said, pointing out the process for advancement for any umpire is a lengthy one that requires patience and gaining skills improvement and experience.

She mentioned the late Bart Giamatti, as MLB commissioner in the late 1980s, was open to the idea of considering women as umpires, but his term lasted less than a year, from Sept. 8, 1988, until his sudden death on Sept. 1, 1989. Three months later, Postema, seemingly on the verge of getting to the majors after 13 years in the minors (including six in Triple-A), saw her contract terminated.

Since then, except for Cortesio and Barber working MLB spring training games, there has been little news about female umpires in professional baseball.

“Currently there are no women in the pipe line; the number of women umpires in professional baseball is zero. There haven’t been any for the last eight years. It is pathetic,” said Barber.

So what is it going to take to get a woman prepared to join male colleagues in the field?

“Part of the problem is there are no women going to the umpiring schools,” Barber said. “I would like to see about 20 women enroll in the Harry Wendelstedt or Vero Beach schools each January, but the schools do not seem to be recruiting women. There also needs to be a better standard of objectivity for judging an umpire’s expertise. The instructors need to evaluate male and female students the same, so that all are on a level playing field.

“Also, the branding needs to be made more attractive. If a girl says she wants to become a baseball umpire, she might be asked, ‘Why would you want to do that? You’re going to be yelled at all the time.’ Umpiring needs to be presented to women as an attractive occupation, and the view of umpiring needs to be changed,” Barber said.

“I would tell a girl thinking about becoming an umpire it would be something you could enjoy. It is challenging, you get to travel a lot and meet interesting people while working under a sapphire blue sky atop emerald green grass on a diamond — and what woman doesn’t like bling?” she said.

“Someone in MLB needs to step up too. It would be nice if they could provide a scholarship to send a promising female umpire to one of the schools,” Barber suggested. “Palmer and Kantner were hired after (NBA vice president of operations) Rod Thorn asked to have women referees come to camp. The sky has not fallen, and now the NFL also has a woman referee.

“What is baseball waiting for?” Barber asked.

Barber, 61, still hopes to see a woman MLB umpire within six to eight years. “It’s going to happen,” she said.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com

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