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This article was published in the Fall 2018 Baseball Research Journal
A note from the editor of the Baseball Research Journal.Why do you love baseball? Many of us caught the baseball bug from a parent or other adult when we were young. Baseball hooks our emotions when we’re impressionable, engages our civic pride and maybe even patriotism, and stirs our excitement. Baseball is parent-approved fun, but it also provides lessons in disappointment. There are a million reasons to be into baseball, which is part of its strength and its appeal.
But lately I’ve come to realize that there’s one reason some people are into baseball that doesn’t make sense to me. I always thought the goal of baseball was to win the game. When people resisted the sabermetric revolution, I thought of it as differing opinions on how to win the game, some based on “traditional wisdom,” some on data and observation. I hadn’t realized how much of the fight was, at a deep level, about American ideals of masculinity. One example: swinging the bat was considered manly, taking a walk was not. It has taken decades for the walk to be destigmatized. It boils down to some people being more interested in baseball players performing their masculinity than performing the winning actions of the sport.
The sabermetric revolution may have won, but the attitude that performing masculinity is baseball’s central function persists. I know because women in baseball continue to meet resistance. There are still people against girls in Little League, despite the fact that the court ruling allowing girls into Little League dates back to 1974. In 2014, the year of Mo’ne Davis and Emma March, the New York Times declared in a wishful-thinking headline that girls in the Little League World Series were “A Novelty No Longer.”1 Tell that to the huge total of 18 girls who had appeared in the tournament by that date — out of over 5,000 players.2 There are still too many leagues where having a girl on a team is treated as the exception, not the rule.3 That won’t change while some people still believe that if a girl steps on the same field with the boys, the boys are somehow “brought down.” The poor boys get told that they’re no good, second class, or “sissies” if a girl pitcher strikes them out. Those are not what I consider good ol’ American values!
These folks truly believe that female baseball players ruin the sport. I’m here to assure you neither the biological sexes of the players nor their performed gender roles are what make baseball great. The only thing that’s ruined when women walk on the field is the notion that baseball should be the ultimate expression of American maleness.
This attitude also keeps women out of umpiring and creates a second-class status for softball — a place to shunt female ballplayers where they “belong.” Sexism in sports is not new, but not every country has this particular nonsensical divide. In Australia, women and men play both softball and baseball. They’re a former British colony, too. How did the United States end up like this? SABR’s historians can offer a clue. Former Congressman Mark Souder’s article in 2017’s The National Pastime showed me how baseball teams were synonymous with institutions of government post-Civil War, a literal part of the fabric of the rebuilt nation.4
Back in the day, the Supreme Court and the US Congress used to be all-male American institutions. Like major league baseball, they were also all-white. As we know, that didn’t last. I don’t think the male “ownership” of American baseball can last, either, not when Japan has a women’s pro baseball league.5 Not when independent teams like the Sonoma Stompers keep thinking outside the box.6 Did you know that the United States has a national women’s baseball team? Did you know they compete with international women’s teams who are much better supported by their nations? Did you know Team USA took gold in the 2015 Pan American Games? And this past August, the US women made it to the bronze medal round of the Women’s Baseball World Cup, despite barely ever practicing together.
Historians, take note: in the wake of recent pioneers like Ila Borders, Robin Wallace, and Justine Siegal, history is being made right now by American women like Marti Sementelli, Malaika Underwood, and Stacy Piagno, and their accomplishments deserve to be recognized and recorded.
If you want to know more, SABR has a committee devoted to women in baseball, and you don’t even have to be a woman to join it. Of course, you don’t have to be part of a SABR committee to research a topic. And just in case you don’t know, the Baseball Research Journal is open to submissions all year round.
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CECILIA M. TAN is SABR’s Publications Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Mike Tierney, “A Novelty No Longer,” The New York Times, August 13, 2014. Accessed October 8, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/14/sports/girls-in-little-league-world-series-become-less-of-a-novelty.html.
2 “The 18 Girls Who Have Made Little League Baseball World Series History,” LittleLeague.org, February 4, 2015. Accessed October 8, 2018. https://www.littleleague.org/news/18-girls-made-little-league-baseball-world-series-history/.
3 Howard Megdal, “If She’s Playing Baseball, She Must Be Badass,” Fansided, May 31, 2018. Accessed October 8, 2018. https://fansided.com/2018/05/31/little-league-co-ed-girls-baseball/.
4 Mark Souder, “Captain John Wildey, Tammany Hall, and the Rise of Professional Baseball,” The National Pastime: 2017. Accessible online at https://sabr.org/research/captain-john-wildey-tammany-hall-and-rise-professional-baseball.
5 Jessica Luther, “What Does Japan Know About Women’s Baseball That The US Doesn’t?” Huffington Post, August 25, 2018. Accessed October 8, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/japanese-women-baseball_us_5b804007e4b0cd327dfc774b.
6 Chris Arnold, “2 Women Play for Sonoma Stompers Baseball Team,” NPR.org, July 1, 2016. Accessed October 8, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/07/01/484316791/two-women-play-for-sonoma-stompers-baseball-team.