Keeping Score: Perry Lee Barber is an umpire who knows her stuff


Imagine being so competitive that if you get beaten at Monopoly, you study so hard that you become a Wall Street mogul; or being beaten at Jenga, so you become an architect; or getting reamed at, say, Candy Land, so you study to become a world-famous baker. That’s what happened to Perry Lee Barber — not with candy, but with baseball.

Once upon a time, Barber lost a game of trivia because she knew so little about baseball. So she started studying, and accidentally fell in love with the game.

Barber started umpiring in the little leagues 25 years ago, and worked her way all the way up to calling games for Major League Baseball spring training.

The Women’s Sports Foundation has an interview with Barber this week, and boy, did she win me over with her charm and self-awareness.

On being one of the first women to umpire professionally, Barber said, “At this stage in the game, my first thought is, ‘Isn’t that pathetic, that I should be the first anything?’ If I were the 20th or 30th, that’d be about right.”

To try to help other young women achieve their dreams of umpiring professionally, Barber wants to set up a school to help women break into the baseball scene.

“I want to make sure there’s a mechanism in place by the time I die,” she said, “that women have of reaching out and finding and encouraging one another to view umpiring as a possibility in their lives, as one that’s fun and rewarding and that might eventually lead to one or more becoming major league umpires.”

I’ve been down on MLB since its first strike, but reading Barber’s blog made me kind of nostalgic for the days when I used to collect baseball cards with my childhood BFF. (She grew up to be a lesbian too!) Her blog reads like one-half rule book and one-half love letter, which is the kind of thing that should probably be required at the beginning of every relationship, come to think of it.

In her article about Barber, Kelsey Koenen says, “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.”

This is my favorite kind of story: Woman falls in love with a sport, woman breaks through barriers to participate in the sport, woman spends a quarter-century years bossing around all the men in said sport.

If ever there is a movie about Perry Lee Barber’s life, you can bet I will own it on DVD. I’ll shelve it right beside Bring it On. Baseball may be America’s national pastime, but only cheerleading can provide us with gems like, “You’re a cheer-tator, Torrence, and pain in my ass.”

In baseball terms, we call a line like that a homerun. Unfamiliar with the term? Look it up. You might fall in love with baseball all over again, and if you do, Perry Lee Barber has paved the way for you to do something about it.

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