Those of you who know me or have read my bio would certainly understand that the great American game of baseball has been the focus of my professional life. This month, I would like to share a story about one of the most interesting of the many scores of interesting people I’ve met during my baseball career.
What does this have to do with women, you ask? When I started working in the professional baseball front offices in the 1970’s, women were pretty much relegated to clerical roles. It was thought that since women did not PLAY pro baseball, they would not be appropriately qualified to make executive decisions about the game. No woman had held a “decision making” position in any level of the game. Even today, while many women have risen to higher ranking positions, no woman has ever been named General Manager of a major league team. This year, we enjoyed the performance of young Mo’ne Davis who captured the imagination of the nation in the Little League World Series.
Many facets of baseball at all levels remain slow to accept females. Pam Postema broke the barrier as an umpire over 30 years ago, working as high as the class AAA level of pro baseball. No woman has since been an active regular season umpire, and we have yet to see a female player in the professional ranks.
That’s where Perry Barber comes in…
When I first met Perry Barber, she was not far removed from making her debut in New York society, but she hardly looked the part of a debutante. To the best of my recollection, she was wearing grey double-knit men’s pants, a blue shirt, a dark blue baseball cap and some clunky looking black athletic shoes. Hardly the look of a demure young lady being introduced to the upper crust of the nation’s largest city!
They say looks can be deceiving. Maybe so, but Perry Barber is more an expert at looking the way she is supposed to look at any particular time. She could be described as a “human chameleon”.
Our first meeting was after she umpired a professional minor league spring training game in Plant City, Florida. I was working for the Texas Rangers and one of my responsibilities was to see to it that the umpires who worked our minor league scrimmages were paid. When the name “Perry Barber” showed up on my desk as an umpire who was due a paycheck, I thought nothing of it. As further evidence of her chameleon-like talents, the name Perry could well be that of a male.
But when a petite blonde in a skirt and blouse came in to pick up the check, I realized that the ump whom I had barely noticed (although he/she was a bit diminutive) on the field that afternoon, was no man! While I tried to mask my surprise, I am sure Perry noticed and I am sure it was far from the first time she had experienced that situation. One can only imagine what she has experienced on the baseball field.
Later, I learned that Perry is not only a baseball umpire. She is also a talented singer, songwriter and guitarist. One day that spring she came to my office with a cassette tape containing a series of baseball songs she had written and performed. I learned that she had been inspired to write them by her friend Steve Goodman. Yes, THAT Steve Goodman, the famous singer-songwriter who had penned hits such as “City of New Orleans” and others. I learned that Steve had played a role not only in Perry’s musical career, but in her baseball career as well. He was one of the folks whose interest in the game of baseball had inspired her to become an umpire. Thirty years later, I still have that cassette, featuring the cult hit “The Umpire Stands Alone”.
But it doesn’t end there. Over time, I learned that Perry was a twin. She and her late twin sister Warren (another name that could also be a man’s moniker), were raised in Manhattan and, somewhat reluctantly, made their debuts in New York’s high society. They studied at the Sorbonne in Paris among other places, and shared many interests.
Perry has performed on stage around New York City and other venues, including opening for some of the great legends such as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, David Bromberg, Jerry Jeff Walker and others. She was a champion on the television quiz show “Jeopardy”. She is an author and a talented public speaker. She has lent her significant talents to, and worked tirelessly for, any number of good causes, particularly those involving women’s rights. But don’t think she is just a speaker (she recently presented a TED talk), writer or promoter of causes. She truly lives out her principles through her actions and activities.
While Perry still lives in the Manhattan apartment in which she was raised, she doesn’t spend all of her time there. To this day, for a good portion of the year, she travels the country in her Toyota Prius with license plate BIG 6, the nickname of her all-time baseball hero (NY Giants’ great Christy Mathewson) umpiring wherever she can find an assignment from Florida to California and points in between. She doesn’t just speak of women’s rights, she lives her life as an example to women young and old. Of course, she is a vocal proponent of women in baseball in all facets of the game.
A conversation with Perry may take many paths. My vocabulary has been greatly expanded through the sharing of thoughts and ideas with her on facebook. She is versed in a wide variety of subjects as witnessed by her performance on “Jeopardy”.
There are many more famous women in our modern society, but there is none more passionate and no better example of a woman who lives her principles and follows her dreams more than Perry Barber.
To paraphrase the popular television commercial, she doesn’t often (ever?) drink beer, but she is… the world’s most interesting woman!