There’s No Crying — or Women — in Baseball?

April 15, 2011

Women In BaseballThroughout my childhood, whenever anyone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would respond, “A professional baseball player.” My dad shared his love of baseball with me and taught me all about the game. When it was time to sign up for little league, I was devastated to find out I had to play softball; girls were not allowed to play baseball. But my hopes were lifted when I saw A League of Their Own. It was the first glimmer of hope that maybe I could become a professional baseball player. Obviously, I’ve moved on to other things, but I’m still a baseball fanatic. And young girls who have a similar dream now have a better role model than Tom Hanks’ character, who famously said, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Last month during spring training, Justine Siegal became the first woman to pitch batting practice to a major league team. She pitched to a few batters from the Cleveland Indians, her hometown team, and the Oakland Athletics a few days later. This isn’t the first time Siegal has paved the way for women in baseball — she was the first woman coach of a professional baseball team, the Brockton Rox. Like me, as a child Siegal used to lay awake at night dreaming of a career as a professional baseball player. Even though she claims she gave up on that dream when she was 15, she has gotten a taste of what might have been and is paving the way for women in baseball through her organization Baseball for All.

Mitchell with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig after the game where she struck them both out.

Mitchell with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig after the game where she struck them both out.

Siegal may have been the first woman to pitch batting practice, but she was not the first female pitcher in professional baseball. In 1931, 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell signed with the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league team. Desperate for an “edge” to increase ticket sales, the manager opted to bill his team as the only club to feature a woman on the mound. On April 2, 1931, the New York Yankees stopped in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on the way home from spring training for a game against the Lookouts. Mitchell wasn’t slated to start the game, but she was brought in just in time to face the legendary Babe Ruth. The first pitch was called a ball, but the next three were called strikes, and he was out. After finishing off Ruth with her fierce curveball, Lou Gehrig was next up, and she struck him out too. Mitchell became famous for retiring two of baseball’s greatest hitters, but unfortunately her impressive pitching didn’t open up doors for more women in the sport. Following her stellar performance, the then-commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, had her contract voided and barred women from baseball, claiming that the sport was “too strenuous” for women.

As a lover of America’s favorite pastime, I look forward to the day when I can buy my future daughter her first baseball glove and teach her how to play catch, just like my dad did with me. Hopefully by the time she is ready to play little league, she will be able to play baseball alongside the boys.

By:   |   April 15, 2011

5 Comments

  1. Kathleen Wood Laurila says:

    I had to chuckle about your memory. I went to my first baseball game during the few months that Willie Mays played center field for the AAA Minneapolis club during the 1950s. For several years I would say, “I’m going to be Willie Mays when I grow up.” For a WHITE GIRL, this was usually viewed as preposterous. But my dad just said, “go for it, girl.” But alas, baseball was never to become an option for me.

  2. Kelly Guarnaccia says:

    I too was the only girl to show up at little league try outs. I excelled on skill more then most of the boys Yet I was cut first round. That was a bitter pill to swallow at 10. Most of the boys came to me later at school and said it was wrong. The male coach had the issue. I played softball but I loved baseball more. I welcome men to play softball. I know there are women who can pitch. Hopefully men today will treat them with respect and want to see this skill level.

  3. Laura says:

    Thank you both for sharing your memories and experiences. It is important to continue to share our love of the game with girls in hopes that they will have an equal playing field one day.
    Go Phillies!!

  4. Gabe Lozano says:

    Nice post, Laura!

    I don’t think you’re alone in being a girl that wants to play baseball! The first time I spoke with Justine she told me that over 100,000 girls/women play baseball in the U.S.!

    I thought you’d be interested to know that we’ve been working with Justine Siegal to launch a girls baseball network at http://baseballforall.lockerdome.com. She wants to connect the 100,000+ participants in girls baseball. Pretty cool stuff.

    Here’s a neat profile from the network that shows the tremendous passion there is in girls baseball: http://baseballforall.lockerdome.com/ld/Profile/default/shawnamacurio.shawna_macurio.pl

    I’d love to chat with you about it, if you have a free minute :-). I can be reached at gabe [dot] lozano [at] lockerdome [dot] com.

    Cheers!
    Gabe

  5. Chris says:

    Softball is a bastardization of the greatest game ever invented. It drives me nuts that girls don’t have their own teams. I wish more felt the way you do!

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