Umpire Unmasked: Christine Wren Opens Up About Her Life As a Baseball Pioneer

Written by: Alex Coffey

A lot can be garnered from the way Christine Wren found out she was to be the second female umpire in professional baseball history.

The year was 1975, and Wren was working in an auto body shop. One of her co-workers answered the phone – a call from Peter O’Malley, former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers – and immediately hung up, assuming it was a joke. O’Malley, not one to back down that easily, called again, asking for the owner. This time, Christine answered the phone. She too, thought it was a joke – until she recognized the owner’s voice from television programs.

“I thought it was somebody pulling games,” Wren said in a phone interview. “When I talked to O’Malley on the phone, I recognized his voice. He then asked me to work an exhibition game between the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Dodgers.”

Wren had been attending the Bill Kinnamon Specialized Umpire Training Course in Southern California at the time, and had spent countless hours officiating every sport from football to basketball. Her chance to prove herself had finally arrived, on one of the biggest stages imaginable – Dodger Stadium. She remembers that game vividly, as the highlight of her umpiring career, and credits it as one of the reasons she was chosen to umpire in Class A.

“There is nothing like walking out on a field where there are 55,000 people. The electricity lifts you off the ground,” Wren recalled. “I do believe that game was the reason I was asked to go to Spring Training at Vero Beach, Fla. My feeling has always been that I won myself a job [in Class A] at that Spring Training. All "the powers" were there to watch my progress. I must have impressed someone, or a group of someones.”

Wren would remain in the Class A Northwest League for two years, and the Class A Midwest League for the 1977 season, becoming the second female umpire to work in Organized Baseball following Bernice Gera in 1972. Wren recently donated several pieces, including her chest protector, baseballs and scrapbooks to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

While her professional umpiring career began at the age of 26, Wren had been playing and officiating baseball since her early childhood. She says that she originally started umpiring because she disagreed with many of the calls her friends were making, and decided to take matters into her own hands.

“We played baseball in the streets. We had 40 kids on the block – split into two teams. We made our own backstop, and one of our friends got his dad to make a PA system,” Wren said. “I stayed in love with the game I grew up with, and that’s the only way I felt that I could be involved.”

But even from the beginning, the odds were stacked against her. Wren endured sexist comments, gender bias and even physical abuse during her four-year stint in the minor leagues. She was hit by baseballs – when working home plate – and broke her collarbone in the process. And after four years in Single-A, Barney Deary, the then-administrator of the Major League Baseball Umpire Development Program, declined to promote her to Double-A, sending her to the Class A Midwest League instead.

“For a girl, she’s made of sturdy stuff,” Deary told reporters. “But you see, that’s what we’re worried about, whether she can take the physical punishment. You never hear the men complaining, because the pain is second nature, just part of the job. And I doubt very seriously any of the players tried to set her up to get hurt. If anything, I think they were more prone to protect her."

After being sent to the Midwest League, Wren decided it was time to hang up her blue suit. For about 35 years, she avoided all kind of media attention, quietly following baseball as a spectator, while she worked jobs as diverse as truck driving to a school computer technician. But despite her adversity she encountered when umpiring, she never felt ill will toward the game – and to this day, credits baseball for giving her the confidence she needed to work in other female-devoid industries.

Christine Wren received a lot of media attention after her umpiring debut at the exhibition game between USC and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and graced the covers of magazines like Friends and Referee. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“People wanted to know exactly why I left, but I didn’t want to reflect badly on baseball,” Wren says. “I am now able to look back and say ‘I did a good job. I am happy with it.’ It gave me confidence. Once I had been an umpire, I didn’t think there was anything that could stop me. I drove a truck, I got a job working as a computer technician – that got everyone’s heads spinning too.”

And 35 years after her retirement, she is sharing her history with the world at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, donating multiple scrapbooks, a chest protector and baseballs used in games she worked. While her career as an umpire has come to a close, one thing is for certain: When Wren sees a need for proper officiating, she will not stand by idly.

“When I first left umpiring, I bought a house that sat above a ballpark that I could see – I bought it for that reason,” Wren recalled. “They played Finger League baseball games there, high school level or older. I called a balk from my deck once. I had to run inside – they didn’t know where it came from, or that I was watching. Well, it’s not my fault – they blew it, I didn’t.”

Alex Coffey was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame

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