Women in Baseball
New Jersey Baseball Feature Story
Calling ‘Em As She Sees ‘Em
Carolyn Malmi has “loved baseball since she was a kid” growing up in Chicago. She played girls’ softball until she turned sixteen years-old, when she reached sophomore year of high school. She played the game well enough to earn a roster spot on the girls’ U.S. Junior Olympic team that went to Amsterdam in 2001.
Ump Carolyn Making the Call
Interestingly, she chose not to continue playing girls’ scholastic softball past tenth grade. When asked about that Carolyn explains that she really wanted to play baseball, but “didn’t know girls could play baseball.” She means, of course, that girls do not receive encouragement to play baseball because American society generally does not expect them to have the interest, let alone the ability, to play sports typically reserved for boys.
When it comes to umpiring, however, the twenty-three year-old arbiter breaks that societal mold. Ump Malmi has umpired baseball for four seasons now, the last two at Cooperstown Dreams Park (CDP) in upstate New York, and the experience has lit a new baseball fire for her. Aspirations that she once had for playing the national pastime now focus on umpiring.
New Jersey Baseball Magazine caught up with Ms. Malmi during CDP Tournament Week #4. Cooperstown Dreams Park, located approximately five miles south of Cooperstown, New York, on state route 28, conducts twelve weeks of tournaments for twelve year-olds each summer. CDP Tournament Week #4 for 2008 ran from Sunday, June 29, through Thursday, July 3.
Among other things, she talks about having “learned so much” from the people who have worked with her, to help her ”become a better umpire and a better person.” Along with all the umpires she has met at CDP, she singles out the Park’s Director of Baseball Operations, Mike Page, who helped her more than anyone. “I wouldn’t say that he tore me down and built me back up, but he corrected many of the things I was doing wrong and replaced them with the proper mechanics. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than Mike.”
Cooperstown Dreams Park
Ms. Malmi remains “undecided about attending professional umpiring school,” but, for the time being, she relishes the opportunity to work the game she loves, no matter the level of play. “You never know what (reactions) you’re going to get from parents, fans, and coaches,” explains Ump Carolyn, although most of the time they react in a positive way. “Most people think it’s cool to have a female umpire, especially the kids,” she says. “They feel that I’m more approachable because I’m a woman.”
To be sure, that has not always been the case for her. She knows that being more approachable can have its down side. “Sometimes it goes the other way,” she laments, as it did at a high school freshman game she recently worked. Her description of the attitude and the behavior of some players on the losing team following the conclusion of that game falls nowhere short of chilling: “Two rain delays and lots of sloppy play made for a bad game. When it ended on a close play that went against them, I was approached by six players on the losing team, one of them with a bat in his hand.”
To this day Ms. Malmi believes that those players approached her in that menacing way, certainly “because they didn’t like the call on that final play of the game,” but mainly because of her gender. “They were on me all game, trying to get at me because of my gender,” she observes now.
Fortunately, the adult coaches took charge of the situation, and nothing further transpired. Ms. Malmi’s school assignor wrote a letter to the school, and she received strong support from her baseball umpires association. In fact, Ump Malmi makes a point of asserting that she is “accepted and respected within the male association,” and that “good people there have always helped me and backed me up.”
A different scenario presented itself when a dumbfounded Ump Malmi had to contend with coaches on opposing teams following a play that left an injured boy lying on the ground. “A runner trying to score collided with the catcher, and both players were sent sprawling. One stayed down, hurt and crying.”
Instead of responding immediately to the fallen player, “all both coaches wanted to do was argue their point with the woman umpire. It didn’t help that one of them was also the league president.”
Once again, though, right won out. “Someone finally called an ambulance, and the league president not only had to leave his position as president but was banned from attending all future games in the league.”
Breaking with tradition as she does, Ms. Malmi rejects the notion of herself as a trailblazer. She would like to know, however, that she can serve as “an inspiration to young women who want to try to make it in sports officiating.” Still, while her passion for the game remains undiminished, her relatively brief history as an umpire has “changed her outlook” somewhat.
Carolyn Malmi, CDP Umpire
Until she makes a decision about trying to further her umpiring career, she will continue working at the scholastic level and appearing at the CDP tournaments. Due to the extensive support she continues to receive, she sees no distinction made because of her gender. She believes that overall she receives a “fair shot,” irrespective of her gender.
She continues to love “going on the field and not knowing what’s going to happen.” She loves meeting new people and “hearing all the war stories, talking about rules interpretations and applications, and seeing how baseball is different in different areas of the country.”
“You have to be an adrenalin junkie to be an umpire,” she says. “You know what should happen, but it doesn’t always happen the way it should; in that way baseball mimics life.” To Ump Malni the element of surprise in baseball, “as in life, makes you work harder, so no matter what you’re ready.”
Not surprisingly, her message to aspiring women sports officials comprises characteristically down-to-earth advice. “Watch the game, be familiar with the game, be teachable, talk to people, work with good people who will look out for you, not because of gender but because of your interest in sports officiating.”
New Jersey Baseball Magazine looks forward to following Ump Malmi’s progress. Baseball’s rich tradition and bright future belong to those who love the game, learn valuable life lessons from it, and pass along the wisdom it bestows to the wonder children in all of us.
We know that Ms. Malmi will continue to call ‘em as she sees ‘em; and, for as long as she does, we will continue to watch and learn along with her.