The farmer sees it as a sign to build a baseball diamond. As the story goes, long before Costner’s movie, the same thing sort of happened to Bernice Shiner Gera, a former resident of Erath. She didn’t have the vision thing, but she definitely heard voices pertaining to baseball.
Bernice was born on June 15, 1931; she graduated from Erath High School in 1949. She always loved the game of baseball, and as a housewife many years later, Bernice heard a voice in her head tell her to follow her dream. As a way of staying close to baseball, she wanted to become a professional umpire.
Bernice talked it over with Steve, her husband, and he agreed with her to go for it. And so in 1967, Bernice Shiner Gera enrolled in an umpire school in Florida.
It wasn’t easy getting into the tight-knit, male dominated club; Gera faced gender discrimination.
Phil Piton, the president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (minor leagues) at the time, felt that the 5-foot-2, 130-pounder did not measure up to the physical requirements. Gera slapped him and the association with a civil rights lawsuit, and a difficult six-year court battle ensued. Finally, she won when New York’s highest tribunal, the Court of Appeals upheld her contention that physical standards for umpires were unjustified and discriminatory to women.
Bernice Shiner Gera, the 40-year-old housewife officiated her first professional baseball game on June 24, 1972, at Geneva , New York . It was the season opener between the Geneva Rangers and the Auburn Phillies, two minor league ball teams of the New York-Penn League. The game was delayed due to the heavy rains that inundated many parts of New York . The Evening Gazette said Mother Nature did what some baseball officials could not—prevent Bernice Gera from making her baseball debut. The rains forced postponement until that night, when it was played as part of a doubleheader.
According to the Oneonta Star of New York , Gera’s debut wasn’t without controversy. There were three questionable calls in the game, one play in particular during the fourth inning. According to news reports, Gera initially ruled an Auburn base-runner safe on a play and then reversed her call. Nolan Campbell, manager of the Auburn club challenged her decision. He even went as far as to say Gera’s first mistake was donning the blue suit and her second was blowing the call. Campbell was immediately ejected from the game.
Gera was disappointed with the other umpires who refused to cooperate with her on the field. It was at that moment, between games of the double-header that Gera decided to retire after her first minor league game. Although Gera stopped umpiring, she stayed in the game. She went to work for the New York Mets in the team’s community relations and promotions until she and Steve retired to Florida . Bernice Gera died of kidney cancer in 1992, at the age of 61. She still has family living in Vermilion Parish.
When asked about officiating baseball, Bernice Shiner Gera would often say she could beat them in the courts, but not on the field. To date, no woman has ever umpired in the major leagues .