There’s No Crying — or Women — in Baseball?April 15, 2011
Throughout 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.
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.