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The BASEBALL RELIQUARY Inc.


THE SHRINE OF THE ETERNALS
2000 ELECTEES

 

PAM POSTEMA

 

Albert Kilchesty, the Baseball Reliquary’s Archivist/Historian, has observed, "Many writers have gushed profusely about baseball’s role as a social mirror, reflecting all that is noble and wholesome about American life. Baseball is a mirror of American life, but it reflects more frequently all that is wrong with America, not what is right. America’s struggle with issues of ‘difference’ -- race, class, gender, sexual orientation -- are all reflected glaringly in the great American pastime. While one could cite any number of instances in which baseball has responded to perceived ‘threats’ to its purity by blackballing alleged ‘offenders,’ the case of Pam Postema, an umpire, is especially appalling."

Following in the footsteps of Bernice Gera and Christine Wren, the first two women to go through umpiring school and work briefly in the minor leagues, Pam Postema was one of 130 students who enrolled in the 1977 winter session of the Al Somers Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Florida. Describing the Somers school as "an umpire’s version of boot camp," Postema finished high in her class and began her professional career in the same year at the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. She spent the next 13 years steadily progressing through the ranks of minor league umpiring, by far the longest tenure of any woman in an on-field capacity in major professional sports. Following stops at the Class-A Florida State League and the Class-AA Texas League, Postema arrived at the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1983. She was an excellent arbiter and a hard worker, extremely dedicated to her profession. After watching many of her male counterparts, often possessing less experience than she, promoted to the big leagues, Postema at last seemed assured of a major league umpiring slot. But that promotion never came, as the Lords of Baseball refused to allow her entrance to their good ol’ boy network. After six years at the highest rung of minor league baseball, Postema was released from her contract by the Triple-A Alliance in 1989, thus ending her dream of umpiring in the major leagues.

Postema faced seemingly insurmountable roadblocks along the way, from low pay to poor working conditions to a constant battle for respect from players, managers, and colleagues. She had hoped everyone would grow bored with the novelty of a woman umpire, and she would slip into the major leagues unnoticed. But after Bob Knepper’s Neanderthal comments following a 1988 spring training game, Postema realized that no matter how competent she was as an arbiter, she would never crack baseball’s all-male domain. After praising her work behind the plate, the Astros pitcher launched into a chauvinistic tirade: "I just don’t think a woman should be an umpire. There are certain things a woman shouldn’t be and an umpire is one of them. It’s a physical thing. God created women to be feminine. I don’t think they should be competing with men. It has nothing to do with her ability. I don’t think women should be in any position of leadership. I don’t think they should be presidents or politicians. I think women were created not in an inferior position, but in a role of submission to men. You can be a woman umpire if you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. You can be a homosexual if you want, but that doesn’t mean that’s right either."

Postema eventually filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against major league baseball in Federal court, which was later settled. In 1992, while working as a truck driver for Federal Express in California, she published her no-holds-barred autobiography, You’ve Got to Have Balls to Make It in This League. On major league baseball’s determination to keep their field of dreams a male privilege, Postema wrote, "Almost all of the people in the baseball community don’t want anyone interrupting their little male-dominated way of life. They want big, fat male umpires. They want those macho, tobacco-chewing, sleazy sort of borderline alcoholics. If you fit their idea of what a good umpire is, then you’re fine. And isn’t that the way society is? Nobody wants any glitches. If somebody is a nonconformist like me or, say, Dave Pallone, then we get shown the door. It’s hard to accept. And I’ll never understand why it’s easier for a female to become an astronaut or cop or fire fighter or soldier or Supreme Court justice than it is to become a major league umpire."

In the concluding chapter of her book, Postema candidly addresses the fallacy of her belief that as long as she did her job, it didn’t matter what sex she was. Her 13-year experience proved to her that the men who run baseball could care less about equal rights. Postema contends she made a strategic mistake in downplaying her feminist beliefs so as not to alienate the baseball establishment, preferring to fight the battle on her own without the help of any women’s organizations that she could have relied on for support. In hindsight, she would have trumpeted her feminist beliefs, drawing attention to herself and to the plight of women, rather than being the "respectful little soldier."

Postema is currently a factory worker in her home state of Ohio. Over a decade after leaving professional umpiring, she still awaits the day that baseball’s last barrier will be broken.


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