Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and a fantastic article titled, “Someday, Baseball’s Mother’s Day will be about a player,” from Steven Goldman went up on SBNation.com. It’s a long read but completely worth the time and talks about the pros, cons, justifications, and excuses made on all sides of the women-in-MLB debate, but his point is that women can no doubt play ball, but are we ready as a culture for that to happen. A cultural shift needs to exist for it to happen, but he argues that the first woman player will need to make similar agreements to the ones Jackie Robinson made—she will have to play, play well, and endure more vitriolic words than any one human should ever have to hear or read.
Goldman brings up several points about the need for girls to be groomed into baseball—not just softball—and cites contemporary and historical examples of successful women in baseball, including the 17-year-old knuckleballer Eri Yoshida and the only woman to strike out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Jackie Mitchell, who is wildly interesting and contested.
While I’d never debated Mitchell’s merits or abilities, apparently many others—specifically male baseball historians—have attempted to debunk what they call the “Jackie Mitchell hoax.” Here’s the thing: if you’re a woman who’s played baseball or a human who has watched other women play baseball, you would not doubt the validity of Jackie Mitchell. She came about at a time when women hadn’t been funneled into softball, yet. Girls grew up playing ball in the streets with their brothers, and they had the same wit and intelligence to win the game. As Goldman and many others have pointed out, baseball, despite it being a sport played by some many big men, is largely not a contact sport and depends on players who “specialize” in certain skills. As it turns out, women have reasoning capabilities and the ability to excel at “skills.” Steven Goldman believes a woman can play in the big leagues, and so do I.
Here are a few interesting things Goldman says:
“There have been good hitters who were small of stature but generated power through having unusually strong wrists, an exaggerated weight transfer, or a high leg-kick. And power, of course, isn’t the only successful way of hitting. Ichiro Suzuki made himself a Hall of Famer beating out 6-3 grounders, and many greats simply sprayed the ball from line to line and took a few walks. That approach fell out of style in recent decades as hitting home runs became easier and easier, but lower offensive levels and the new prevalence of the shift is just begging for it to make a comeback.”
“I remain skeptical that we will react to her with fairness, justice, and respect. Just as the confluence of the election of an African-American president and the anonymity of the internet has served to uncork both coded and overt expressions of racial prejudice that haven’t been socially acceptable since the 1950s, a woman playing baseball would be subject to chauvinistic, misogynistic language that should have died with the first bloom of feminism, if not before. In short, whoever the female Jackie Robinson is, we wouldn’t deserve her. At best, it’s hard to feel as if we’re ready for her yet.”
“There is hope that a female baseball player would be safe to be a woman in all senses of the word without being stigmatized. The Atlantic notes that London Olympics volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings was five weeks pregnantat the games, and she wasn’t alone: there was also “Malaysian markswoman Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi (seven months pregnant), and field hockey striker Keli Smith (Post-Partum Year One).” These women do not seem to have suffered for being both athletes and mothers. And yet, they too do not play in an arena that looms as large for Americans as does baseball.”
Read the article and tell me what you think.