In 1943, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was formed. Men 18 and over were drafted and sent off to war. This caused the minor league teams to be disbanded. Leaving a serious need for baseball. A couple of big wig businessmen got together and came up with the concept of women playing baseball. I wrote about this a little over a year ago in “AWAKENING THE DREAMERS, MAKING HISTORY.”
The teams were set up for failure, being put in small, out of the way towns. Once the war was over, and the men started returning to the field, the AAGPBL had no chance at survival. No one would travel to these small towns to watch women play, when they could go to local cities and watch “real” baseball. The AAGPBL lost ticket sales, and eventually had to be completely disbanded.
Growing up both a girl and a baseball fan, one of my most tragic childhood dreams were of becoming a ball player. A Yankee, preferably, but I would’ve been happy to play in any major league team. I just wanted to play. My dream, of course, ended way before it ever could become anything. Girls did not play baseball. My dreams shattered, I kept hope alive that maybe one day, when the world was a more accepting place, some other little girls dream would come to fruition, and she would take the field, and blow us all away with her incredible talent. Well, it’s 2016. The San Diego Padres just called up their next big pitcher. A prospect with a ton of promise. A pitcher with a lethal screwball, who happens to be a woman. Kind of.
|“PITCH” airs Thursdays at 9pm on FOX|
Last week, Fox premiered a new show “Pitch,” set around the concept of the first woman to play in the Major Leagues, and I am absolutely addicted to it. Kylie Bunbury plays the very talented screwball pitcher, Ginny Baker. The show tackles gender politics in the sports world, and it’s everything I expected it to be. Ginny has to handle the pressure of being the first female in the major leagues, all the expectations, and bias that comes along with that while learning where she fits in with her teammates, and her place in history in general. From the sexist comments made, the focus on her appearance, the belief that she is not as talented as the men, and the little girls hold up “I’m Next” signs, the show does an incredible job of presenting exactly what I think would happen in the event that the day ever came when a female would grace the field.
Look, I’m not good at mincing words, so I won’t sugar coat this… sports is a male dominated field and females are almost never taken seriously. Just look at the 2016 Summer Olympics. The USA Women’s Gymnastics team was incredible! The Final Five performed beautifully and managed to win the gold in the Team All-Around competition.
During the ceremony, Gabrielle Douglas stood at attention while the National Anthem played. People absolutely lost their collective minds. The outrage was absolutely ridiculous! People were calling her unpatriotic and a slew of other names. Douglas who was standing on the podium after receiving a gold medal for helping her team in the All-Around. Meanwhile, the most decorated Olympian of All-Time, Michael Phelps laughed during the National Anthem, and people were quick to rationalize it away. To be fair, I’m not upset over either of these, but if I had to call one of these unpatriotic, it certainly wouldn’t be the young lady who stood at attention.
Katie Ledecky of Team USA’s Women’s Swim Team is a complete phenom. I’m almost convinced the woman is really a mermaid. Ledecky set a world record of 8:04:11 in the 800-meter freestyle, a full 11 seconds faster than the silver medalist. Commentators and the media were seriously impressed with the “Female Michael Phelps.” Conner Jaeger, a 2012 Olympian, commented that “Her stroke is like a man’s stroke.” He qualified that by saying “I mean that in a positive way. She swims like a man.” As if her talent is directly related to her ability to emulate her male counterparts.
When it comes to women in sports, they have to work 10 times harder than their male counterparts to be taken even slightly as seriously. They are laughed at, ridiculed, almost never taken seriously, and often sexualized. And this isn’t exclusive to athletes. Female sports commentators and writers also have to face these issues. The great Suzyn Waldman is often described as annoying. I once asked someone why they disliked her so much, and his response was because she wouldn’t stop talking long enough to let the men speak. I was surprised and a little sad. Very few people actually realize how intelligent and well spoken she is. She truly is a pioneer for women in the field, and she very rarely gets seen as such. But she is not the only victim of these such mentalities. Back in April a video surfaced of men reading mean tweets about sportswriters Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain. You can watch it below, but be warned, if you have not yet seen it, it will make you angry.
The tweets in the video were very real. The reaction of the men in the video is very real and raw. Just imagine being the woman those tweets are aimed at. It is absolutely ridiculous, and really heartbreaking.
Now I will say this, I have been incredibly lucky. At Bleeding Yankee Blue, and in my life in general, I am surrounded by men who appreciate smart, sports savvy women. But I am under no delusion that the everyone is like that. Last year, when I wrote about Melissa Mayeux, the first woman to be added to the MLB’s international registration list, a read pointed out that it was unlikely she would become the next Jackie Robinson. I do not think it was malicious, just a simple point of fact on how things unfortunately work. But in recent years, women have been making more and more strides in sports, and it gives me a glimmer of hope.
(In Photo: Justine Siegal)
Justine Siegal was the first female coach of a professional men’s baseball team in 2009, when she worked with the Brockton Rox. She became the first female to throw batting practice to a MLB team in 2011, with the Cleveland Indians, and became the first female MLB Coach in 2015 when the Oakland A’s invited her on as a guest instructor for their Instructional League Club.
(In photo: Becky Hammon)
Becky Hammon became an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, Jen Welter was a training camp intern coach for the Arizona Cardinals, and Nancy Lieberman as assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings. I’m almost certain I am missing a few but my point is simply that there is progress being made. It’s incredibly slow going, and sometimes that is very frustrating, especially for fans like myself. But it is happening.
“Pitch” takes all of this into account. It is very real in its approach. What would happen when the first woman takes the field to play in the MLB? The same thing that happened when Jackie Robinson broke the color lines. I wish I could say that people wouldn’t care, but that is untrue. There will be many who cheer her on, myself included. Many, many young girls will be overjoyed and run to get her jersey, because representation matters, and seeing a woman on the field is like seeing themselves out there. People will hang onto her every word, her every action. And some will absolutely oppose it. They will look for any reason to say “See, this is why women shouldn’t play pro sports.” She will have to be strong, and dedicated with an immense love of the game, and herself because she will face scrutiny that has not been seen since the Dodgers placed a black man in uniform on the field to play for them.
I feel a little romantic watching “Pitch.” Even knowing all of this, I still look forward to the day it becomes a reality, and I only hope it happens within my lifetime. To live to witness the first female MLB player would be an incredible dream come true.
To the Ginny Baker’s of the world, the Melissa Mayeux’s, we’re rooting for you. We believe in you. You can do it!