Blog

The Lifelong Dream and Short Career of Bernice Gera

March 24th, 2022

(From March 1997 Historical Society Newsletter)

Many may remember 1972 as the one year the Texas Rangers had a professional baseball association with Geneva.  Most, however, probably associate the 1972 baseball season in Geneva with the national attention generated when a woman walked onto the field at Shuron Park (renamed McDonough Park in 1977) and made history by becoming the first woman to serve as an umpire in the professional baseball league.  Bernice Gera umpired the first game of a doubleheader that day then promptly resigned and walked off the field.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1931, Gera grew up playing baseball in sandlots and as a member of her high school softball team.  She tried to pursue a job with any of Major League teams after graduation to stay close to the game but was unsuccessful.  Eventually, it struck her that perhaps she would succeed in staying close to her favorite pastime by umpiring and began to write to various umpiring schools seeking admission.  She was rejected by most and one which accepted her, thinking that she was a man named “Bernie,” cancelled her admission when they found out she was female.  She eventually gained enrollment in Jim Finley’s Umpire School in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Though she was shunned by her other male classmates, she managed to graduate with honors six weeks later and began to umpire in semi-pro baseball.  It was 1967 and there were few opportunities for women in professional baseball, but Gera persevered and in 1969 the New York – Pennsylvania League sent her a contract and her first game was scheduled for August 1, 1969 in Auburn.

Bernice Gera in an umpire's uniform

Card that Bernice Gera distributed at public appearances.

The day before the Auburn game, Gera received a telegram from the president of the National Association, baseball’s professional minor league organization and was informed that she did not meet the associations physical standards and would not be hired.  The president also charged that she was publicity seeker which was an undesirable trait for an umpire.  Gera countered these charges as well as pointing out that the physical requirements were discriminatory against not only against women but small men as well.  After a lengthy and costly legal battle, the league reinstated her and announced that she would begin working as a professional umpire.

By now, it was 1972 and the press descended on Geneva to cover Gera’s first game, dubbing her the “housewife at home plate.”  The June 24 game was far from routine.  Gera made three hotly disputed calls, including, one where she reversed her decision which led to the ejection of Phillies manager Nolan Campbell from the game.  Before the second game began, Gera walked into Manager Joe McDonough’s office, resigned and departed from the field in a waiting car.  In later interviews, Gera maintained that it was not the specific problems with the game that caused her to quit but rather the realization that she would never be accepted as an umpire that led to her departure from Geneva that day.  She continued to work in baseball, on national shows such as ABC’s Wide World of Sports and she was hired to work in community relations for the New York Mets.

Bernice Gera passed away in 1992 after a seven-year struggle with cancer.  She succeed through her perseverance to open the door a little wider for women in baseball.

Caption – Card the Gera distributed at public appearances.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.