In baseball's male-dominated environment the only thing tougher than being an umpire is being a woman. And Pamela Postema of the Pacific Coast League is both.
She has been nicknamed the Umpress, but she has been called worse. A lot worse. Not long ago she had to physically restrain Portland catcher Mike Diaz as he howled profanities from the bullpen, spit in her face and called her a dyke. When she threw San Francisco Giants coach Herm Starrette out of a spring training game this year, he told her, "Go back to your needle and thread." When she ejected a 14-year-old bat boy for refusing to follow her orders—she wanted the kid to remove a chair from the field—Tony Kubek discussed the incident on the Game of the Week. One night she found a frying pan waiting for her at home plate.
When you're the only woman in blue, everyone in the ball park knows you're there, even if your men's gray polyester pants, light blue shirt, black belt and black shoes—all from J.C. Penney—do nothing for your figure. Behind the plate Postema can't hide even though her hair is cropped short and shaggy, a protector covers her chest and the pouches that contain fresh baseballs disguise her hips. No, there's no place to hide, but as the only woman umpire now in professional baseball and only the third in history, she has hung tough for eight hard years. Her goal, of course, is to be the first woman to make the majors.
Barney Deary, administrator of baseball umpire development, says Postema could make it as early as next year. Dick Butler, the American League supervisor of umpires, says "Her progress has been good. I'd like to take a look at her this season."
Postema, 30, is the first woman to be promoted past Class AA. Every time she advances to a new league, press conferences are arranged in each city. Fans hound her, players make nasty insinuations and her slipups become blunders worthy of national mention.
The attention started in 1977 at umpire school—where she finished 17th out of a class of 130—and hasn't let up since. This year is her second in the Triple A Pacific Coast League, following six seasons in the Gulf Coast, Florida State and Texas leagues. On the field her strike call is explosive and full. Off the field her opinions are guarded. She loves to talk about umpiring; she hates to talk about herself.
According to Pacific Coast League president Bill Cutler, Postema rates in the middle of his 15 umpires. Her strongest suit is calling balls and strikes; her weakest is anticipating plays on the base paths. "She has the talent to make it," says Cutler, who himself caught some flak when he hired Postema.
Cutler says the only concession he made to her gender was being a bit more careful assigning her to crews. "I put her with people I knew would be fair to her," he says. But there's no way of insulating her from abuse. Baseball fans can be brutal. "Everybody knows who she is and where she is. She can't possibly block it all out," says Craig Brittain, her crew chief. And then there are the critics on the field. The dugouts get on her, and some players have gotten downright raunchy. Brittain says, "Every time there's a sexual comment, she runs 'em." She has ejected eight loudmouths already this season.
The potshots came from all sides during a recent series in Salt Lake City between the local Gulls, a Seattle Mariners farm team, and the Hawaii Islanders, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate. "Come on, blue, tell me what was wrong with that pitch, you dumb hussy," yelled a man from the box seats. "Women don't belong in baseball. All they know how to do is clean off the bases," shouted a guy from general admission. After Brittain made a close call at home, one fan yelled, "Put Pam behind the plate, we like looking at her backside better." Another bellowed, "Hey Pam, how's the wife?"
Even women give her a hard time. After a close call on a slide at third base, one woman yelled, "You're a disgrace to the ERA." And she didn't mean earned run average.