Bernice Gera

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Bernice Shiner Gera
Bernice Gera.jpg
Born June 15, 1931
Ernest, Pennsylvania
Died September 23, 1992
Pembroke Pines, Florida
Cause of death Kidney cancer
Occupation Umpire
Spouse(s) Steve Gera
Bernice Gera historical marker

Bernice Shiner Gera (June 15, 1931 – September 23, 1992) was the first female umpire in professional baseball.[1]

Born in Ernest, Pennsylvania and one of five children, Gera loved baseball as a child and grew up playing as an outfielder and umpiring games.[2][3] She never considered a career in baseball until she was already in her mid-thirties, married, living in Jackson Heights, NY, and working as a secretary. [2][3]According to a Time article, the idea to become an umpire just suddenly hit her one night and saw her work umpiring games in slums as "a form of social welfare," as having a woman on the field would lead to "less trouble" and encourage other women to attend the games. [3] Gera sold her husband, a free-lance photographer, on the idea and enrolled in the Florida Baseball School in 1967. [4][3]

As umpiring had been a strictly male profession up to that point, the school had no facilities for Gera, and she spent much of the six-week program living in a nearby motel. By several reports, she excelled in her training, yet Gera was rejected by the National Association of Baseball Leagues (NABL), which claimed that she did not meet the physical requirements of the job.[5] Ed Doherty, a baseball executive, claimed that umpires needed to be 21-35 years old, a minimum of 5 foot 10 inches tall, and weigh 170 pounds while Gera was only 5 foot 2, 38 years old, and 126 pounds. [3] Gera even had prior experience umpiring for the National Baseball Congress in Bridgeton, NJ as well as in "recreational programs in the slums," but this was not enough to get her a job. [6]Unable to gain employment as a female umpire, on March 19, 1969, Gera filed a sex discrimination case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act with the New York State Human Rights Commission. [6] In her complaint, she accused both the New York Professional Baseball League and its president, Vincent McNamara, of not employing her as an umpire due to her sex. [6]. In his rejection of Gera's application, McNamara cited single-gender dressing rooms and foul language on the field as reasons why females should not umpire games.[3]

Undeterred, Gera fought the NABL in court for five years. [7] Representative Mario Biaggi (D., N.Y.), represented Gera legally in court and, using Gera's story as inspiration, even introduced an equal rights Constitutional amendment to the House during his time in Congres.[3] On January 13, 1972, Gera finally won a discrimination suit against the NABL,[8] winning approval in The Court of Appeals in a 5-to-2 decision.[9] Though she was not a member of women's liberation group, she was a "stanch adherent of work equality" and viewed this as a huge victory. [9] She then received a contract to work in the New York–Penn League on April 13, opening the door for her to become the first female umpire in professional baseball.[10] On June 23, 1972, she gained national attention when she umpired the first game of a Class A minor league doubleheader between the Geneva Senators and Auburn Twins. The game was a near sellout with 2,000 people attending the game at Shuron Park in Geneva, N.Y.[11]

In the fourth inning, Gera ruled Auburn base-runner Terry Ford safe at second on a double play, then reversed her call. Auburn manager Nolan Campbell disputed the decision and said that Gera's first mistake was putting on an umpire's uniform and her second was blowing the call. Campbell was ejected from the game, but Gera still decided to resign between games, which was later said to be planned, saying she became disenchanted with umpiring when the other umpires refused to cooperate with her on the field.[12][13] She was scheduled to be the home plate umpire for the second game.[14]

Gera cites the "cool resentment" of both the other umpires and the baseball establishment as a motivation for her decision to resign, not her dispute with Auburn manager Nolan Campbell. [7]This, combined with both verbal, written and physical "threats" "disgusted" her and contributed to her disillusionment with baseball culture. [7] Eight men, for example, allegedly shattered the light outside Gera's motel room and cursed at her the night before she umpired her first game, perceiving her as an "attack on baseball's male fraternity. [15] Though she resigned not long after becoming an umpire, Gera saw this as a larger, symbolic victory for women participating in sports historically perceived as "for men only."[16]

"Bernice would always say, 'I could beat them in the courts, but I can't beat them on the field,'" Steve Gera, her husband, quoted his wife as saying. Although she stopped umpiring, Bernice Gera stayed in the game. She went to work for the New York Mets in the team's community relations and promotions from 1974 to 1979 before retiring to Florida.

Bernice died of kidney cancer in 1992 in Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines, Florida at 61 years old.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Bernice Gera". Biography.com. 
  2. ^ a b Bernice gera. (1992, Sep 25). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/108860097
  3. ^ a b c d e f g By, H. L. (1969, Mar 20). Mrs. gera, who seeks to ump pro baseball, goes up to bat again. Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/133424058
  4. ^ "Bernice Gera". 
  5. ^ "Umpire Ambitions Of Lady a Big Out". The Huntsville Times. Associated Press. May 1, 1968. p. 10. 
  6. ^ a b c By, H. L. (1969, Mar 20). Mrs. gera, who seeks to ump pro baseball, goes up to bat again. Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/133424058
  7. ^ a b c By, D. A. (1972, Jun 26). Woman umpire returns to plates at home. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/119455830
  8. ^ "Court Backs Lady Umpire". The Milwaukee Journal. January 13, 1972. 
  9. ^ a b By WILLIAM E FARRELL Special to The New,York Times. (1972, Jan 14). Court rules woman may be a baseball umpire. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/119422502
  10. ^ "Bernice Gera Gets Contract as Umpire". Montreal Gazette. April 14, 1972. 
  11. ^ Special to The New,York Times. (1972, Jun 25). Woman umpire quits in tears after debut. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/119441352
  12. ^ "Every Woman Should Think For Herself". The Day (New London). June 23, 1972. 
  13. ^ Special to The New,York Times. (1972, Jun 25). Woman umpire quits in tears after debut. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/119441352
  14. ^ "Woman Ump Bernice Gera Resigns After Just 1 Game". The Morning Record. June 26, 1972. 
  15. ^ "The Lady Was an Ump". 
  16. ^ For-men-only barrier in athletics is teetering. (1972, Jul 16). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/119541727
  17. ^ "Obituaries". The New York Times. September 25, 1992. 

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