Friday, February 26, 2016

Women in Baseball: It's a Good Thing

I've started to sense a sea-change over the last year or so. A change for the good. I talk about it in the introduction to my new book.

DEDICATION

This book is dedicated to all of the women who love baseball, not just those who love to watch it, but those who strive to become an integral part of the great American pastime on the field, in the dugout, behind the plate, in the press box, in the clubhouse, or in the front offices.

Alison Gordon opened the doors in 1979 when she became the first female beat writer in the MLB (for Toronto) and the first female member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Many have followed in her footsteps, but it took another 36 years for Jessica Mendoza to become the first woman to provide in-game analysis for a nationally televised major league game last fall.

Progress, however, has been glacially slow for women who wish to participate in the world of baseball in “non-traditional” roles, but there are signs that opportunities may at long last be opening up for them.

Justine Siegal has collected a few firsts in her lifetime. She was the first woman to throw major league batting practice, the first woman to coach for a professional team (in the independent leagues) and just last fall was the first woman invited by a major league club to coach prospects in the Fall Instructional League for the Oakland A’s. Siegal formed the organization Baseball for All as a platform to help girls and young women participate in the sport.

Rachel Balkovec, recently hired by the Astros as the strength and conditioning coordinator for their Latin American operations, was the first female S&C coach in affiliated baseball when she handled those duties in the Cardinals organization.

Robin Wallace has proven herself as a full-time scout for the MLB Scouting Bureau, and Christie Stancil Wood first started with that same organization as a video technician in 2000. Amanda Hopkins was hired in December by the Mariners to be a full-time scout for that organization and is believed to be the first woman in that position since the 1950’s when Edith Grace Houghton, a former professional shortstop, scouted for the Phillies from 1946 to 1951.

There was even a French shortstop, Melissa Mayeaux, who became the first female to register for the July 2nd international signing class. She was also the first female to train with the MLB Elite Camp in the Netherlands last August. She hopes to continue making history by landing a spot on the French team for the World Baseball Classic in 2017. And, of course, everyone is now familiar with the story of Mo’ne Davis as the first female to earn a win in Little League World Series history in 2014.

Unfortunately, the news for female umpires isn’t quite as good. Pam Postema made it as far as umpiring in a major league Spring Training game in 1988 thanks to her support from then Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti, but she topped out at AAA, losing that support and her job shortly after Giamatti’s death in 1989. To my knowledge, there are currently zero female umpires working in the minor leagues. Bernice Shiner Gera was the first woman to serve as a professional umpire, doing so for a short time for the New York-Penn League in 1972. It required a lawsuit for her to get there and she was reportedly more or less bullied into quitting.

As for executives, no one female baseball executive has a higher profile than Kim Ng. She has worked in baseball since first serving as an intern for the White Sox in 1991. She went on to serve as the Assistant General Manager for the Yankees and the Dodgers before taking on the role of Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball in 2011. Despite now having 25 years of experience, Ng is always the bridesmaid and never the bride, having interviewed for numerous General Manager positions going back over 10 years, but never getting the offer.

In late January, MLB announced the creation of a new “front office and field staff diversity pipeline program” to be headed by Tyrone Brooks, formerly the Director of Player Personnel for the Pirates. Brooks has been tasked with increasing “the pool of minority and female candidates for on-field and baseball operations positions.” I wish Mr. Brooks the best of luck.

Again, thank you to all the women who love baseball and are working to make it more reflective of baseball’s audience.

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