Women and Baseball

Jean Ardell (third from the left) was the guest speaker at last Saturday’s book club meeting.

My wife belongs to a small women’s book club that meets monthly. A few months ago, they met at our place and we discovered they were all rabid baseball fans.  Most of them are Angels fans.

The members rotate who gets to choose the book for the next session, so I suggested to my wife they read Jean Ardell’s Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime. Jean was a guest on FutureAngels.com Radio last June. I think it’s one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read.

Jean’s a friend. I met her through Dan Ardell, an original "future Angel" who played in the Angels’ minor league system in the early 1960s and briefly for the parent club in September 1961. (Click Here to listen to an interview with Dan.) Since Jean and Dan live here in Orange County, I thought it would be a treat for the book club to actually have an author participate. Jean said yes.

And so they gathered last Saturday at our home. Most of them wore Angels gear.

I pretty much stayed out of it, since I don’t belong to the club, but I also wanted to eavesdrop on what a group of women would say about their perspective on an all-male game.

I was really surprised to hear the undertone of resentment many of them felt, that they had been denied an intimate access to the game because of their gender. It’s a theme voiced throughout Jean’s book. After telling her of my observation, Jean said she often heard it when lecturing about her book.

Women have made some inroads into the game. You’ll find a few women executives, such as the Dodgers’ Assistant General Manager Kim Ng. They seem to be more common in the minors, such as the Orem Owlz’ Assistant GM Sarah Hansen and Information Technology Manager Julie Hatch. And a female umpire or two occasionally make a run at the majors, such as Ria Cortesio in the Double-A Southern League. You can find a few female trainers in the college ranks.

But a woman who wants to play will find herself pressured to settle for softball.

Baseball and softball are two different games. Similar, but not identical.

Even if a woman chooses to play softball, she can only go as far as her senior year in college and then she’s relegated to the weekend beer leagues.

Granted, as a rule women lack the physical strength of men, so it’s unlikely we’ll see a woman any time soon who could play professional baseball in the majors, much less the minors.

What’s really needed is a baseball version of the WNBA. Call it the WMLB, for argument’s sake.

I’d had hopes the Colorado Silver Bullets, funded by Coors Beer, might one day play women’s ballclubs funded by other companies. But it never came to pass. The Silver Bullets started out playing minor league teams and were overmatched. They never had a home field, barnstorming all year. At the end, they were playing amateur and semi-pro teams, and finally folded.

Certainly there are four megacorporations out there with the deep pockets and minds open enough to start a modest women’s league. Put teams in minor league stadia near New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Orlando. Play a 36-game schedule, 12 against each team, and have the top two teams play each other in a best-of-five Women’s World Series.

With all the ****, er, variety on cable TV these days, hopefully someone out there would buy the telecast rights. After all, A League of Their Own is one of the more popular baseball movies on the DVD rack.

Will it be painful to watch in the early years? Of course. But compare the WNBA now to when it began play ten years ago, and you’ll see a lot of progress has been made there too.

At the college level, we have women’s basketball and women’s hockey. A nascent women’s football league is trying to form.

So why not baseball?

Of the four major sports, it’s the one with the least physical contact and the one where size matters least.

It would be nice if Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB would take the lead on this, just as the NBA Board of Governors voted in April 1996 to create the WNBA. But if they won’t, then private enterprise should step forward and fill the void.


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