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Women Umpires Take the Field – in the 1940s

While Hap Dumont was ahead of his time in many ways, perhaps one of his most impactful promotions involved hiring women as umpires for the National Baseball Congress National Tournament. In 1943, Dumont hired Lorraine Heinisch to umpire one game. It was the same year hundreds of women tried out for the inaugural season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but women having any role in men’s baseball was unprecedented. 

NBC World Series umpire coordinator Jon Browar spent over 30 years as a collegiate umpire, and currently is the NCAA Division II national coordinator of umpires. He talked about the decision by Hap Dumont and the NBC to include female umpires.

“I would put [hiring women umpires in the 1940’s] on par with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball,” said Browar, “That was way, way ahead of the time. I’m sure there were plenty of naysayers.” 

Heinisch was promoted and referred to as a “wump” short for woman umpire. The move received press coverage from both local and national outlets. 

Later in 1967, Bernice Gera, worked as a third base umpire in the opening game of the NBC Tournament. Gera’s appearance was promoted ahead of the tournament. Gera would go on to become the first woman to umpire a professional baseball game in 1972, following a lengthy legal battle. 

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why women can’t be baseball umpires,” said Gera during her legal fight, “You don’t have to be an athlete to be an umpire. All you need is to know baseball, have good eyesight and good judgement. There are a lot of women who can fill that bill. I’m certain we will some day have women umpiring in the majors – maybe sooner than you think.”

In 1988, the NBC pursued Pam Postema, a minor league triple-A umpire to work some of the tournament’s games. That same year Postema became the first woman to umpire a Major League Baseball Spring Training game and the last until Ria Cortesio in 2007. 

Last year, Jen Pawol became the first woman to umpire at the Triple A level in 34 years, and in 2024 umpired MLB Spring Training games. Pawol was just one of two women umpiring in the minor leagues in 2023, along with Isabella Robb, while no women have umpired a regular-season MLB game. Women continue to be underrepresented in umpire schools and on the field, but Browar said there are several female umpires in the minor league pipeline. 

“You’re always going to have the group of people who feel that it’s not a place for women – I think that mindset is changing,” Browar said. “I think it’s a matter of time, I think if you line up people, you’re going to get a woman who’s going to get an opportunity.” 

As Jen Pawol took the field as the first woman to umpire MLB spring training games since 2007, it is evident that while progress has been slow, the progress is there. And the NBC World Series had a hand in pushing forward the careers of female umpires, starting more than 80 years ago.

1950s Blackouts=Glow-in-the-Dark Baseball

Baseball in the dark? Leave it to Hap.

Perhaps one of NBC founder Hap Dumont’s wildest ideas – of which there were many – was to turn the lights off.

During World War II city-wide blackouts were instituted which required businesses and homes to turn off their lights so that population centers were not easily identifiable to potential enemy aircraft.

Dumont brought the blackout to the baseball diamond for one night during the war. For an exhibition game, he painted the balls, bats, bases and uniforms with a phosphorescent paint and then turned off the lights.

General Electric, intrigued by the concept, offered to attend the exhibition to check out the spectacle.

However, by all accounts, it was a disaster. The lack of depth perception made it almost impossible to play the game safely. On the field, light from the surrounding neighborhood affected the usefulness of the phosphorous and Dumont scrapped the idea before it ever saw the light of day.

Dumont quipped, “I haven’t given General Electric’s laboratories any competition since.”

Nevertheless, the fluorescent ball used, which he dubbed the Glo-Ball, made a return over a decade later.

Dumont used the Glo-Ball during the 1958 tournament (with the lights on) and even experimented with it in an exhibition game in Wichita between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox.

It drew positive reviews from players – including Stan Musial – who played in that Wichita exhibition with the Cardinals.

A year later the ball went on sale to the public for $2.50.

A fluorescent ball would resurface in the Major Leagues in 1973 when Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley introduced a fluorescent orange ball for two spring training games.

As Finley had predicted, the ball seemed to benefit the hitters. On March 29, 1973, in a matchup between Catfish Hunter (Oakland) and Gaylord Perry (Cleveland), a combined 16 runs were scored on 27 hits including six home runs. George Hendrick, who hit three of the homers that day said, “…maybe I was just lucky. I couldn’t pick up the spin of the ball.”

In fact, none of the hitters could pick up the spin because the entire ball including the stitches had been dyed orange. After poor reviews from the Major Leaguers at that time, the use of a fluorescent ball in baseball seemed to die in 1973, but its legacy at the National Baseball Congress lives on.

MLB Pitch Clock Has Roots in Wichita’s National Baseball Congress

If you’ve been following Major League Baseball this spring one thing you’ve undoubtedly noticed is that baseball games are faster…much faster. With the introduction of the pitch clock this year, game times are down over 30 minutes from the 2022 season, as of mid-April.

According to Morgan Sword, Executive VP of Major League Baseball, in reference to the pitch clock “…it’s probably the biggest change that’s been made to baseball in most of our lifetimes.”

WHAT YOU MOST LIKELY DON’T KNOW, is that sixty-one years before MLB implemented the “biggest change of our lifetimes”, it was Raymond “Hap” Dumont and the National Baseball Congress who first instituted a 20-second timer with penalties for infractions.

The 20-second pitch clock had technically been in the MLB rule book since 1901, but Dumont’s announcement in January 1962 for the National Baseball Congress’ annual tournament marked the first time that a pitch clock would be enforced in organized baseball. 

Dumont and his team worked with Timex to install a timer on the scoreboard prior to the ‘62 tournament in Wichita. If a pitcher failed to deliver a pitch within 20 seconds of receiving the ball back from the catcher a horn would sound and a “ball” would be called. Hitters were timed as well. They had 20 seconds to be in the batter’s box after the previous batter had either made an out or reached base, and a “strike” was called on the batter if they were tardy. 

Dumont, as he always did, added his own flair to the pace of play initiative, instituting a 90-second clock between innings as well. For Dumont, the quicker pace meant that more games could be played in the tournament, which meant more money for Dumont and tournament stakeholders.

Of the 64 games during the 1962 tournament, only 14 violations occurred and according to Dumont game times were slashed by 25 minutes. 

There was one slight hiccup. During a quarterfinal game, rain short-circuited the timer rendering it unusable. That game, between the Ocala Merchants (FL) and Grand Rapids Sullivans (MI), lasted three hours and 12 minutes.

After drawing rave reviews from players, managers, scouts and fans, Dumont predicted that within two years Major League Baseball would adopt his timer. 

Turns out he was only off by 59 years.

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