CHRISTINE WREN WALKED into a Seattle barbershop one day late in 1976 and asked for the popular Dorothy Hamill wedge cut. She had several reasons for wanting to chop off her long hair, but one of them — maybe the biggest one — was specific to her role as a baseball umpire.
Wren’s goal was to blend in more among her male colleagues on the baseball field. She wasn’t trying to make a statement with the long ponytail she had worn her first two seasons as the lone female umpire in all of minor-league baseball back then. The short hair, she hoped, would make her less of an obvious outlier in an all-male sport.
Here we are, 45 years later, and Wren remains an outlier and an important trailblazer for the women still — yes, still — trying to break the glass ceiling into Major League Baseball. Wren, who spent the majority of her adult life in Seattle before retiring to Spokane five years ago, deserves to be recognized, if not fully celebrated, for her contributions to the game of baseball, for pushing back against the stereotypes of gender roles in sports.
And yet, Wren also has continued, all these years later, to push back against the attention that came from her three seasons working as an umpire. And that, ultimately, is as admirable as her fight to become an umpire in the first place. She was qualified for the job; she was passionate about it, and about baseball in general; and she felt she could do it well. She did it well.
She was asked often in that era whether she was trying to make a statement or, worse, trying to somehow make baseball look bad. The question itself is insulting. Much of the media coverage at the time was, too. Some publications sent their female society reporters to the ballpark to interview Wren, as if it were somehow beneath male sportswriters to do it. Wren grew exhausted by the same silly questions asked of her over and over.
Eventually, she stopped doing interviews altogether, and she initially turned down my request to revisit her umpiring days. She eventually agreed, and I’m grateful for that (though, as you’ll see, she wasn’t comfortable being photographed for this week’s cover story).
Wren’s story remains as relevant today as it was in 1975. That’s not just because we still haven’t seen the first female umpire in MLB — that day, many believe, is on the horizon — but because her early attempts to pave the way did make things a little easier for other women to build off her efforts. She is an inspiration, and I hope you’ll enjoy her story.