McDaniel: Ellen Harrigan and baseball’s all-women front office

From Rachael McDaniel at Baseball Prospectus on January 30, 2018:

While researching the article I wrote recently about Doug Ault, I came across a fascinating new piece of information: During the 1991 season, the Blue Jays’ low-A affiliate in St. Catharines, Ontario, had a front office staff consisting entirely of women. Granted, the modest size of the organization meant that this front office consisted of three people, but it was a still a situation that was, as far as anyone could tell, entirely unique in the history of North American professional baseball. I decided to do some digging into how the front office “Girls of Summer”—as the newspaper headlines repeatedly referred to them—came together, and what eventually became of the three women who had made it happen.

In 1981, 18-year-old recent high school graduate Ellen Harrigan responded to an ad in a local newspaper for secretarial work. Harrigan was born in Ireland and raised in the small Ontario town of Beeton, and even at 18 she cut an imposing figure—a loud, confident young woman, six feet tall, with a head of curly red hair. Thirty people interviewed for the secretarial position, which turned out to be in the Blue Jays’ player development department, headed at that point by eventual World Series-winning general manager Pat Gillick. The main reason Harrigan got hired, she said years later, was because she was the only one tall enough to reach the roster sheet that was hung at the top of Gillick’s office wall. “This is true,” she insisted.

Regardless of whether this seemingly facetious hiring rationale the Jays gave to Harrigan was indeed rooted in truth or not, it became clear quite quickly that Harrigan was aptly suited to the fast-paced and male-dominated environment of a major-league front office. Around the office, Harrigan was called Big Red, earning a reputation as a jokester with a big sense of humor, an efficient, no-nonsense worker. Most importantly, her bosses were struck by her quick ability to learn. Harrigan had known very little about the business of baseball prior to joining the Jays organization: she had been a basketball and volleyball player in high school, and didn’t really follow professional sports. But her aptitude for learning, her willingness to ask questions, led her to be promoted to the position of administrative aide within the player development department. Harrigan was responsible for processing roster information, setting schedules, booking travel—part and parcel of the minor-league GM’s job description.

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Originally published: January 30, 2018. Last Updated: January 30, 2018.