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First Female Major League Baseball Umpire: Bernice Shiner-Gera

Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Bernice Shiner-Gera making call during baseball game

Bernice Shiner-Gera making call during baseball game

Her name was Bernice Shiner-Gera. She was a woman who never thought of herself as a pioneer for women in professional sports. That is just what she became. Gera was born in Ernest, Pennsylvania on June 15, 1931. She eventually became a symbol of removing the barrier for women who want to be part of professional baseball. Bernice Shiner-Gera was the first female to be an umpire in professional baseball. Her goal was just to do a good job and fit in with the other umpires. She spent years in the courts fighting for the right to be an umpire in professional baseball. Gera eventually won. On June 23, 1972, Gera was designated as the umpire in a Class A minor league doubleheader. It was between the Auburn Twins and the Geneva Senators. The game was a sellout and earned Gera a special place in professional baseball history.

Baseball Career

As a child, Gera always loved baseball. Growing up she would play the outfield during games with friends and also be an umpire. As an adult, she never thought about a career in professional baseball. It started when she was in her mid-thirties. Gera was married. She and her husband lived in Jackson Heights, New York. Gera worked as a secretary. One night she imagined herself working as an umpire for professional baseball. She believed having a woman on the baseball field would result in there being less trouble. Gera also believed it would inspire other women to go to baseball games. She convinced her husband it was a good idea. In 1967, Gera entered the Florida Baseball School to become a professional baseball umpire.

Bernice Shiner-Gera showing her umpire gear

Bernice Shiner-Gera showing her umpire gear

Male Profession

Before Gera attended the Florida Baseball School, umpiring had previously only been a male profession. The school didn't have any facilities to accommodate females. Gera was forced to stay at a local motel during her time in the six-week program. Her performance was excellent during her training. When Gera tried to get a job as an umpire, she was refused by the National Association of Baseball Leagues (NABL). The organization claimed Gera did not meet their physical requirements. They claimed their umpires had to be between 21 and 35 years of age. They also had to be a minimum of 5 feet 10 inches tall and weigh a minimum of 170 pounds. Gera was 38 years old. She was only 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 126 pounds. Her previous experience of umpiring for the National Baseball Congress in Bridgeton, New Jersey did not impress the NABL enough to give her work.

Lawsuit

Gera was unable to get a job as a professional baseball umpire. On March 19, 1969, she filed a sex discrimination case with the New York State Human Rights Commission. In the complaint, Gera claimed the NABL and its president refused to offer her employment as a professional baseball umpire because of her sex. The league president claimed he rejected Gera's application because of the foul language used on the field and only having single-gender dressing rooms available for umpires. Gera was determined. She fought the NABL in the courts for five years.

Legal Victory

The discrimination lawsuit against the NABL was eventually won by Gera. With a 5-to-2 decision, she was given approval by the New York State Court of Appeals. Gera was not part of any liberation group for women. She believed strongly in equality in the workplace. Gera believed this was a big victory for female workplace equality. On April 13, 1972, she was given a contract to work for the New York-Penn League. This would provide her with the opportunity to be professional baseball's first female umpire.

Bernice Shiner-Gera speaking with a player during a baseball game

Bernice Shiner-Gera speaking with a player during a baseball game

First And Only Game

Gera received national attention on June 23, 1972, when she umpired her first and only professional baseball game. She worked as an umpire for the first game of a doubleheader. The game was between the Auburn Twins and the Geneva Senators. The game was a sellout. Trouble occurred in the fourth inning. Gera ruled a base-runner from Auburn safe at second on a double play. She then reversed her call. The manager for Auburn yelled at Gera accusing her of blowing the call. He was ejected from the game. Gera resigned after the first game. She stated the other umpires did not cooperate with her when she was on the field. Gera had become disenchanted with being an umpire and the baseball culture. She could not handle the cool resentment of the baseball establishment as well as the other umpires. Gera also had to endure many physical and written threats. She always saw what she did as a huge victory for all women who want to be part of a professional sport believed to be only for men.

After The Game

Gera told people she was able to beat the male-dominated game of baseball in the courts. She just couldn't beat them on the field. Gera stopped being an umpire but remained part of the game. She got a job working for the New York Mets. Gera was part of the community relations for the team. She also worked for their promotions department. Gera worked for the Mets from 1974 to 1979. She and her husband then retired to Florida.

Historical marker in Pennsylvania honoring Bernice Shiner-Gera

Historical marker in Pennsylvania honoring Bernice Shiner-Gera

Death

Bernice Shiner-Gera passed away on September 23, 1992, at Memorial Hospital West. It is located in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Her official cause of death was listed as kidney cancer.

Sources

Wikipedia

Our Biography

MILB

Chicago Tribune

© 2021 Readmikenow

Comments

Readmikenow (author) on April 10, 2021:

DW, thanks. According to my research, there are currently two female umpires in professional baseball. None are at the MLB level.

Readmikenow (author) on April 10, 2021:

Dora, thanks. I was impressed she stayed with it when the lawsuit took five years. An impressive lady.

DW Davis from Eastern NC on April 10, 2021:

Gera's is an inspiring story. I wonder how many female umpires are now working in professional baseball.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 09, 2021:

Hooray to Bernice Shiner-Gera! A fighter and a winner, she deserves her pioneer status. It was a good start, no matter the outcome. Thanks for shining the spotlight on this brave woman.

Readmikenow (author) on April 09, 2021:

Louise, thanks. I believe she is an inspiration.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on April 09, 2021:

That's very interesting! I've learned a lot about her as I've never heard of her before.

Readmikenow (author) on April 09, 2021:

Liz, thanks. It's a shame she wasn't treated better.

Readmikenow (author) on April 09, 2021:

Pamela, thanks. She was a good person to write about.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 09, 2021:

She sounds like quite a character. It is a shame that her umpiring only ran to one professional match.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 09, 2021:

This is a very interesting article. Gera went after what she wanted and won in the court. I really like that story, Mike. Thanks for sharing this information.

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