Bernice Marie Shiner Gera
- Height 5' 2", Weight 125 lb.
Bernice Gera was the first female umpire in Organized Baseball. She was a lifelong baseball fan who wanted to work in the game. After completing an umpire training school in 1967, she applied to both the Commissioner's office and to the head of umpire development, asking for employment. After she was summarily rejected, she sued commissioner William D. Eckert for discrimination, but lost because Eckert contended he played no part in umpire recruitment. She then contacted every minor league and focussed on the nearby New York-Penn League (she was living in New York, NY at the time). She eventually convinced league President Vincent McNamara to offer a deal, only to have her contract voided with no reason six days later by Phil Piton, head of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. She sued again, won this time, the National Association appealed and lost again. On March 15, 1971, she filed a lawsuit against Organized Baseball, citing a civil rights violation. On January 13, 1972, she won her case.
On June 24, Gera got her first game, umpiring a contest between the Geneva Senators and Auburn Phillies. In the 4th inning, Auburn's Terry Ford was on second and broke for third. The batter lined to Geneva 2B Jim Pascarella, who fired back to SS Brian Doyle at second for a seeming double play. Gera ruled Ford safe, then reversed her call. Auburn manager Nolan Campbell disputed the decision and said that Gera's first mistake was blowing the call and that her second was putting on an umpire's uniform. The quote was altered over time, with a part about Gera belonging in the kitchen, peeling potatoes added on at an unknown time, although period accounts do not include it and Gera herself claimed that Campbell never said it. Campbell was thrown out of the game. Gera resigned after the game, but she said her decision had been taken beforehand, because she had been exhausted by the long legal fight to get to the field, and only found resistance, ridicule and lack of acceptation along the way.
Her case was the object of intense media attention throughout, from the time she entered umpire school until the time she finally took the field as an umpire. She continually received hostile press and derogative remarks, even if a few persons supported her in her fight, including a few members of Congress who were not impressed by Baseball stonewalling her every which way possible.
From 1974 to 1979, she worked for the New York Mets PR department.
- Amanda Lane Cumming: "Bernice Gera and the Trial of Being First", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 51, Number 1 (Spring 2022), pp. 33-44.