From front offices to fans, to media, it is time for everyone involved in MLB to get with the times and embrace women in the world of baseball
The beauty of baseball is that the old saying is true- baseball is a metaphor for life. More often than not, what happens on, or around, the field can be directly linked to what is going on in the real world. You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of this. It is for that reason that, when it comes to women in society, the baseball world can serve as a perfect analysis of fair and equal treatment.
The series debut of Fox’s television series “Pitch” had people talking recently. Apparently, Major League Baseball was very excited about the project, and was willing to work with Fox, as long as the representation of the game itself was accurate and wasn’t made to be cheezy. That demand would create a bit of a problem for the show’s producers, given the reality women face in writing about baseball, let alone playing it. The buzz around the show is an interesting one; one that will hopefully lead to a larger questioning of norms in baseball. The accuracy upon which the league insists, may depend on what hardships the lead character suffers as she invades a man’s world.
While the show centers around a female breaking the gender barrier in Major League Baseball, one can’t help but think that there is a very long road to travel before that show becomes a realistic endeavor. While there may be an uphill battle to fight before we see women on a major league baseball field, the more immediate place to start might be in the media coverage of the game.
See, the airing of the show sparked a question: Why aren’t there more women in baseball? Let’s set aside the game for a minute (we’ll come back to that), but perhaps the place to start is the place one would think should have the least resistance in allowing the female presence to become more commonplace is the coverage of the game itself. There is an opportunity to have life set the model for art. I wanted to examine the existence and acceptance of women in baseball coverage. Perhaps, that is the place to start to change attitudes that stand as roadblocks to women entering the game.
Back in the early part of the 2015 season, Ted Hesson wrote about baseball being covered by mostly white dudes. The crux of this piece is that there is not enough coverage from persons of colour, or those who might actually represent players not from the United States. For a sport that has so many from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or other Spanish speaking countries, it would make sense that there would be people covering the sport who can identify with those players. The fact is, there isn’t.
Writing for Fusion, Hessan provided a graphic of all MLB teams and their broadcasts. In the American League, 8 of 54 ‘in booth announcers’ were non-white in 2015. In the NL, 5 of 64. Out of all 118 TV announcers, NONE were women. You might be tempted to think that National broadcasts are a little better with their female representation. But, a quick search yields the following: Fox Sports- ZERO female presence in their 2016 coverage (ironic given their new show), ESPN- only Jessica Mendoza (brought on last season) is currently listed on Sunday Night Baseball. Monday Night Baseball has ZERO female presence, as does Wednesday Night Baseball.
The argument can be made that TV coverage typically features a color commentator, which is most often a former player. And, in baseball, there have been no women to play the game. But, can we really justify not having more women doing play by play or analysis? Not well, we can’t. You can’t tell me that TV broadcasts actually think that women can’t offer the same analysis, etc that a man would. If you think that, you’ve obviously not been privy to a game featuring Jessica Mendoza. When you do catch a game, your ears perk up a bit. The voice stands out. That might be because the sound is not what we’re used to. We don’t like what is different.
This is something that Alexis Brudnicki excellently dove into in her piece entitled “I’m Different. I’m the Same” for The Hardball Times. Basically, the belief is that women are different for liking baseball. When they don’t fit into the stereotype of a female, we treat them like they’re “different”; as though they are an affront to the long held stereotypes we’ve grown up with. It is what we can imagine the first people to spot an ostrich might have said: “But, you’re a bird, you’re supposed to fly. We don’t know what to do with that?” Often, with women in the baseball-sphere, we don’t know what to do with them. Whether unintentional, or maliciously, we discriminate against women in the baseball world.
The same reasoning behind good old fashioned discrimination is behind this too. We don’t understand, therefore we reject, we alienate…sometimes, we hate. Take Julie DiCaro, Chicago anchor at 670 The Score and sports writer, as an example of how bad it can get for women in sports. Her project #MoreThanMean, which she presented with fellow writer, Sarah Spain, has become a viral reminder of what potentially awaits females who dare enter the world of sports, let alone attempt to tell the world what they think about said world. DiCaro took to penning an open letter pleading for some changes to Twitter based on the harassment (too light a word) she has faced in her position. As a female, she has been subjected to intentional, targeted insults, as well as threats of violence, which somehow go unpunished.
The fact is that this is not as accepting a time period as we’d like to think. I wanted to pick the brains of a few of the women I respect (there are so many more that I could have reached out to) in the baseball world to get their take on how they see things. I asked 2 Jays From the Couch writers, Catherine Stem and Joy Frank-Collins for their thoughts, and Joanna Cornish, who runs the very awesome site Hum and Chuck, as well as Jessica Quiroli, who writes on the minor leagues at Baseball Prospectus and created her own blog: Heels on the Field, which also covers the minors.
I’m a little ashamed to admit that the first question I asked each of them was how they fell in love with the game of baseball. In light of the context, asking these women to explain their love of the game seemed an insult. We don’t ask men to defend themselves in that way. My hope is that they did not take offense to it. I am thankful that each of these women took the time to discuss this with me.
Each having their own experience(s) in the baseball writing realm means that what they had to say was not universal per se. But, there were some very interesting comments made about the treatment they’ve received. Quiroli explains: “Women in baseball are seeing two things. One, extreme harassment and threats via social media. Two, a huge community of support that will back them up on social media. So there’s more support and discussion, but also more fear due to such terrible harassment.” That’s pretty much the strange dichotomy that women face: there’s extreme harassment, but increased support. Joanna adds: “I’ve had some weird interactions online, often sexual in nature, that I’m pretty sure most of the male bloggers have never experienced.” Joy concurs: “I’ve gotten a few threats from people on Twitter who tell me I should stick to doing certain unmentionable acts on men and stay out of baseball.”
When fear of harassment isn’t at the forefront, there is an outright dismissal of ideas based on gender. Catherine says she’s had to put people in their place when she’s been dismissed: ” I found it funny to hear “You don’t know what you’re talking about” from some of my male friends. I was like “Actually, I do. I was the one sitting beside that player on the dugout bench when he said that! You my friend were on your couch” Joanna adds, “I do often find that people who want to dismiss my opinion tend to frame it with me being a woman”. Because of the dismissal, Joy explains that she has actually shied away from specific topics: ” I chose to write articles that have a more “soft” tone. I write a social media wrap up, I interview players, I profile people, I do features on people behind the scenes in baseball and on infield dirt replacement projects, so my topics aren’t as likely to draw ire as other hot-button issues might.”
There’s an issue, here. I asked these ladies what the answer is. Quiroli had this to say: “Women are still sexually harassed & are far outnumbered in the business…Editors continue to fail in hiring women, so that’s part of it.” One could argue that those in charge of publishing should be taking a more pro-active role in providing a safe platform for all writers, including women. That would require a shift in thinking that acknowledges that there are women out there that have intelligent things to say. Catherine brings up a good point: “The fan base of many clubs are changing. It’s not a girl going to the game with her boyfriend/husband to tag along but going to the game to see the game. Stadiums are not male dominant anymore. The dome is a great example on any given night of the huge population of female baseball fans, serious, knowledgeable fans. As much of professional sport is about money these days, the money generated by female fans will change the landscape.”
Perhaps an acceptance of women as part of the baseball landscape, in many forms is what needs to change. Here’s Joanna’s take: “I have long argued that opening up baseball to minorities in general, including women, would help the game. A diverse set of people with a diverse set of viewpoints, experiences and skills is never a bad thing and would help baseball evolve and stay relevant…I see no reason why scouts, umpires, coaches, trainers, sports writers, executives, presidents or general managers can’t be female.”
There may be glimmers of hope coming in dribs and drabs. At Think Progress, Kiley Kroh brings us the story of Kelsie Whitmore and Stacy Piagno, who are the first females to play together on a men’s professional team, the Sonoma Stompers, since the Negro Leagues. We might not see it in a year or two, but the time will come when a female appears before an MLB audience. We saw how captivated the world became with young hurler, Mo’ne Davis. It can only be a good thing. Back in 2015, we heard about Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach an MLB team in the Oakland Athletics organization.
Progress and change are slow. For Major League Baseball, this is especially so. Maybe, with a woman appearing on a television in a major league uniform will help audiences come to grips with the fact that women are involved in baseball. The more women we read, hear from and see in baseball discussions, the less easy it will be to dismiss them. The more accepting audiences become, the safer it will be for everyone to share ideas on baseball. It’s 2016. It’s time for everyone involved in baseball to catch up.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.