Women's Baseball Experience Part 3: Why Aren’t There More Women in Baseball? (A.K.A the One Where We Need More Marney)
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsWomen are advancing in non-traditional roles, but it’s slow and it demonstrates the teams just aren’t great at bringing the game to women at all levels as fans and players or as a career path. It’s not just the Twins, by the way. It’s across MLB.
In 2017, the Cardinals promoted a replica ring celebrating their 1967 World Series victory with a tweet that said "You love baseball, she loves jewelry. On May 17th, it's a win-win." The backlash was swift, but it’s quite a comment on how some in baseball view female fans if that tweet made it out to the internet in 2017.
And what about on the field? I asked Garvin Alston during the 2018 event if we’d ever see a woman on an MLB team? He said he thinks so, someday. His daughter was a baseball player, but she’d reached the point of having to decide about a move to softball for college. And why does she have to decide? Blame Little League.
We just passed the November 7, 1973 anniversary of the landmark New Jersey court decision that forced Little League to allow girls to play baseball. Little League officials couldn’t possibly let that happen, so they got together and in 1974 created a softball league for girls. So here we are 46 years later and girls are still faced with choosing playing the game they love or switching to the game a bunch of misinformed men in the 1970s decided was “safe” for girls to play if they want to continue playing sports in college or beyond. Women have played baseball since the beginning of the sport, even before the AAGPBL portrayed in A League of Their Own. But thanks to Little League, most girls have been pushed into softball in my lifetime.
“But why do you care?” asks the dudebro who definitely hasn’t read this far.
Because representation and opportunity matter, dude.
I’m a baseball and hockey fan. The team sport with the best established women’s league is basketball. I think we’ve seen just how exciting the women’s game can be as we’ve witnessed the Lynx become a dynasty. It almost makes me a basketball fan, but my heart belongs to baseball and hockey.
I am able to watch a women’s professional hockey team now in St. Paul that’s in a national league. I hope they continue to grow to a point where the women playing on the teams don’t need a separate full time job to pay the bills. With the turmoil over the last year with the NWHL and CWHL, it’s apparent we’re a long way from that being their reality. And baseball? Nope. At least not in the U.S. Japan has a professional women’s league, but alas, I still live in Minnesota.
If I were a young girl looking at professional options available to me in sports that provide the same opportunities as men, what are my choices? Tennis is probably the most equal. The prize money is equal in many tournaments and endorsement deals are lucrative for both. Golf has a professional tour, just like the men. The prize money isn’t equal to the men’s game, but it’s growing. The top LPGA earner earned a million more in prize money in 2019 than in 2010 while playing in two fewer events.
Basketball has the WNBA, but the top salary is only around $115,000. Women can earn 15 times that playing in Europe or Asia, but if you want to play in the US, too bad. Soccer? If you can make the US national team, you can earn a salary as high as $250,000 plus endorsements, but if you aren’t in the top 25-30 players in the country, that opportunity doesn’t exist. By comparison, there are over 600 roster spots for men on MLS teams with a league minimum salary of $60,000 and the top paid player at $7,200,000.
And it’s bigger than just sports. Justine Seigal, the founder of Baseball for All, was a guest on the This Week in Baseball History podcast recently. Justine was 13 when she was first told she shouldn’t play baseball because she was a girl. She founded Baseball for All to empower girls to believe in themselves and keep playing the game they love. As she said on the podcast with Bill and Mike, “My focus is on girls believing in themselves. Because I’m so concerned that when you tell a girl she can’t play baseball, what else will she think she can’t do.”
Even if the opportunities existed today, my window for playing baseball at a professional level has been closed for a while. So what do I want to see in the future of baseball as a fan?
As a female fan of the men’s sport, I’d like to be respected as a fan. Don’t market the game to me as if women are only watching because men are attractive and we can’t possibly understand or appreciate the plays on the field. Sell more than pink and sequined women’s apparel. For every player shirt or jersey that’s in the store in a men’s cut, also have the women’s cut available. Unisex in a t-shirt or jersey is a lie we’ve all accepted. Unisex is code for “it’s the men’s cut, but we don’t have a women’s cut so we call it unisex.”
Bring more women into roles traditionally held by men, on and off the field. You don’t have to have played in the major or minor leagues to be an effective infield coordinator or first base coach or any other coaching or staff position. Make it crystal clear to every single employee on and off the field that behavior like Osuna’s and Taubman’s is absolutely unacceptable. It’s highly unlikely that was the first time Taubman said something unacceptable, but this time it had consequences. How many other times did it not? And Osuna or Russell, or Chapman, or Torres, or Herrara, or or or…)? I understand the players are protected under their CBA while under contract, but teams can still make choices on who they trade for or sign as free agents.
Now, about those girls and young women who want to keep playing baseball? Support them, mom, dad, and MLB. Help them build the route to playing through high school, college, and all the way to a major league whether it’s MLB or their own. Do I think we ever see a woman play on an MLB team? Why not? There are women who are fast and strong and can play as well as some men in the league today given the opportunity to develop. But beyond that, women can have their own league. If Japan can do it, so can the United States. I watch the NWHL Whitecaps and the hockey is fast and exciting and worth watching. I have no doubt women’s baseball can be just as exciting given a proper development path and opportunity to play.
And give me more female voices in primary roles on TV and Radio. I love Cory Provus. Dick Bremer sans Bert is good. But as we’ve seen with the new rotation of color commentators with Dick on the Twins TV broadcasts, there are new voices worth hearing. Marney Gellner is the most logical local voice to move into the role. She’s an experienced broadcaster with years of basketball play-by-play experience and was the first woman to do Twins play-by-play. And when was that? 2019… yes, 2019.
How fun would it be to hear Marney with Justin Morneau or Roy Smalley? She knows the sport, she knows the team. Or how about the radio? Dan Gladden is phoning it in now. The Yankees have had a woman on radio color since 2005. Kris Atteberry is a fine fill-in with Cory when Gladden is out, but why not cycle in a woman. We can have a quality broadcast without one of the voices being a former player. We really can.
Many times watching the Twins and MLB in general is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. I want the team to do well, but I can’t cheer for some players. I’m excited to participate in a day on the field with Twins coaches, but know that none of them will be women. I want to read about Twins baseball, but know that most of the writers, with or without access, are men. Betsy Helfand, who arrived to the beat in 2019, is the lone female full time beat writer and she’s the first since Kelsie Smith left the Pioneer Press in 2011.
If you’re still with me after 4,000 words, thanks. I love baseball and I love the Twins, but I also look forward to the day when there are more women on and off the field and it takes less cognitive dissonance to love the team.
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Previous Installments of This Series
— Part 1: Woo! Fun on the Field! (A.K.A the One Where They Actually Let Us on the Target Field Grass!!!)
— Part 2: Women Who Work in Baseball (A.K.A the One Where We Got a Panel of Female Employees Instead of a Player’s Wife)
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