Pieces of Our Past: December Week 3
Call ‘em like you see ‘em: Betty Speziale did just that as the first woman to umpire at the Little League Baseball World Series
It is no secret that umpires play an important role in Little League, particularly during the Little League World Series. Little League volunteer Betty Speziale can appreciate just such a responsibility, as the first woman to umpire World Series games in Williamsport, Pa.
An instructional manual for Little League umpires, “Call It Right! Umpiring in Little League,” published three years after Little League Baseball’s integration of girls in 1974, gave the following advice:
“Women, especially, should go the extra mile to become well trained. Until the sex barrier is completely broken, an element of distrust may still linger in the minds of the current crop of players, coaches, and fans.”
Mrs. Speziale did just that prior to umpiring in the 1989 Little League Baseball World Series. She attended both the baseball and softball Little League Umpiring Schools held in Williamsport. Prior to her umpiring at the Series, her previous tournament experience included the 1978 Regional Senior League Softball Tournament, the 1979 Senior League Softball World Series, seven Senior League Baseball World Series and the 1988 Little League Baseball Regional Tournament.
A resident of Dunkirk, N.Y., Mrs. Speziale had umpired for 15 years before taking her place on the field at Lamade Stadium. She has not stopped yet, although she admits she has slowed down to one game a day – for the most part.
Her memories of the 1989 games remain vivid. Recently reminiscing about the action, Mrs. Speziale recalled a game that she umpired between teams from Venezuela and Taiwan. “I had my plate game with them,” she said.
The coach from Venezuela said the Taiwan team was stealing his catcher’s signs. “I told him that is part of the ball game. I was thinking, but I could not tell him, to speak in Spanish – the other team probably would not have understood it,” Mrs. Speziale said.
The umpire was at the Series when Victoria Brucker, the first female player to have a hit during the games, played.
“I had first base, she was playing first and a kid stole third,” Mrs. Speziale said. “She made the play at first and whipped the ball back to home, beating the runner by three feet.
“We were both there to play ball, and I was treated well by fellow umpires and coaches,” Mrs. Speziale said. “The week went by so fast that it was a blur.”
Mrs. Speziale said she had not set goals in her life as a young woman but that changed once she started umpiring. Her dream was to come to Williamsport. She umpired 13 years at the Softball World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich., and credits Ben Cerrie, who was the district administrator for New York District 2, with helping her get to Williamsport.
A photograph of Mrs. Speziale with her trademark braids, and a copy of “The Umpire in Little League” that she autographed are on display in the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in an exhibit commemorating her achievement. The display is in the Founder’s Room of the museum, which is located on the Little League International complex in South Williamsport, Pa.
Since her experience, two other women, Flora Stansberry and Lo Mei Yan have umpired at the Little League World Series, in 2001 and 2006.
The Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum, 525 Route 15 Highway, just south of Williamsport, is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor Day. After Labor Day in September, the hours change to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The facility is accessible to the disabled.
Rates are $5 for adults; $3 for those 62 and older; $1.50 for children between the ages of 5 and 13. There is no fee for children 4 or younger. Group rates and tours are available. The museum also offers birthday parties and after-hours facility rentals.
The museum is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
For more information, call the museum at (570) 326-3607; or visit http://www.littleleague.org/Learn_More/museum.htm.